- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Emergency medical services in the District, Virginia and Maryland are scrambling to equip and train fire and rescue crews to treat and handle patients who may be infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued interim guidelines to emergency agencies Friday about treating and transporting suspected SARS patients to hospitals.
But those guidelines haven't eased concerns of many local paramedics and emergency medical technicians who would be called to help patients who could have the virus.
In the District, Fire Chief Adrian Thompson issued to his crews a memo reiterating the CDC guidelines. The guidelines urge departments to use the least number of medical personnel for transports, to wear face shields, gowns and goggles during treatment, to use bag-valve masks for resuscitation and to call hospitals well in advance of arrival.
Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department, said medics have a "general awareness" of the SARS threat. "I don't think it's a panic situation," he said. "The nature of this industry is that it grows and evolves. There will always be new dangers and new approaches to deal with those dangers."
The United States has 193 suspected cases, but no related deaths have been reported. Five cases have been reported in Virginia. The illness has not been detected in the District or Maryland.
Arlington County fire department Capt. Carl Lindgren said one of the biggest challenges was making sure his department received the proper protective gear and that it would be readily available to his crews when needed. Capt. Lindgren's department oversees Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The disease has been spread around the world by travelers, particularly those who have visited Asia where the outbreak began.
"We're just trying to think of different things that could occur and be ready," Capt. Lindgren said. He said the symptoms of SARS resemble those of tuberculosis.
"As a provider, you should be thinking automatically, whether it's SARS or it's tuberculosis, that you need to take precautions," he said. "It's not up to us to make a specific diagnosis, but it is up to us to decide if there's a possibility of an infectious component and protect the patient, protect ourselves and protect the patients that come afterward."
Capt. Lindgren said the newest threat adds more stress on medical crews who over the past 18 months have had to develop strategies quickly to respond to terrorist attacks and anthrax exposure.
"We're just being required to deal with more and more types of danger," he said. "But we accept it as what we have to do."
Loudoun County, Va., officials say they are prepared for anything, even if paramedics can't determine whether the patient has SARS.
"The bottom line is they're not going to know if this is a case of SARS," said Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County fire department, which is near Washington Dulles International Airport. "We have to be prepared for anything and that's why following protocols and CDC guidelines are so important."
Fire officials in Anne Arundel County, Md., home to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said they sent copies of the CDC guidelines to firehouses in the form of departmental orders.
"Shift officers were ordered to conduct mandatory training sessions to make sure everyone understood the guidelines," said Capt. Michael Cox, a fire department spokesman. "What we did is educate the people in the department as to the signs of someone expected to have SARS."

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