- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

Carbon-dioxide sensors for dogs and cats, instead of sensors for humans, wound up in three D.C. ambulances, and paramedics are trying to find out why.

Supervisors are working to locate and retrieve the devices, called airway adapters and capnometers, which are used to determine proper placement for a breathing tube into the lungs.

An airway adapter is placed between a breathing tube and a bag valve that pumps air into a person’s — or a pet’s — lungs. The adapter diverts air to a capnometer, which measures how much carbon dioxide a person or animal is exhaling.

The measurements determine whether the breathing tube is placed properly and how well a person’s or animal’s lungs are processing oxygen.

Though the devices for humans and animals look similar, the instruments for animals vary in size and are incompatible for use on humans.

The devices, which were mistakenly distributed to paramedic units around Memorial Day, bear labels marked with the word “veterinary.”

Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and EMS Department, said officials did not order the veterinary equipment. It was included among extra accessories in an April shipment of about 20 pulse oximeters from Nonin Medical Inc., a medical supply maker based in Minnesota, he said.

A pulse oximeter measures the percentage of oxygen in a patient’s blood.

A spokesman for Nonin, which also manufactures veterinary supplies, did not return a phone call about whether the company regularly packages veterinary equipment in orders for medical supplies.

The fire department’s property section took delivery of the equipment and distributed it to the paramedic units, Mr. Etter said. The veterinary gear made its way into at least three ambulances.

“They were meant to be thrown away,” he said. “They were never meant to be used.”

Mr. Etter said he was unaware of any incident in which a paramedic crew tried to use the veterinary equipment on a person. He could not say what prompted supervisors to begin locating and retrieving the veterinary instruments on Thursday.

Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city’s paramedics, said it was unthinkable that the veterinary devices wound up in any ambulances. He said the devices should have been inventoried, labeled and repackaged into their case by the property division.

“Whether it was the department’s mistake in ordering or the company’s mistake in sending, the department should have caught the error,” he said.

He said paramedics have stopped making assumptions about their supplies since The Washington Times reported in June that paramedics were instructed by supervisors to continue using medications past their expiration dates because fresh supplies were unavailable.

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