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Local emergency services trains for Ebola
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As of late, the national news scene has been buzzing with one particular topic - the Ebola virus.

With potential cases springing up in various states, as well as planes carrying passengers moving through major airports, emergency services across the country are preparing to protect its residents from the contagious virus.

But what about the first responders that transport potential cases? Dawson County Emergency Services held a training last week to address just that.

The classes were held at Dawson County Station No. 7 on Oct. 15 to prepare emergency service workers how to deal with potential Ebola cases.

"We make it our priority to stay ahead of the game and be proactive," said Director of Emergency Services Billy Thurmond. "It is important to develop a plan early so that your men [the first responders] aren't stuck in a bad situation."

Assistant Chief and Training Officer Danny Speaks spoke to gathered first responders about proper procedure and how to handle any potential Ebola virus case in the county.

"As first responders, we are on the front line of this situation," Speaks said. "Because of this, we have a set of guidelines and procedures we need to follow."

According to Speaks, if a case of Ebola is suspected, emergency personnel should, first and foremost, be sure protective gear is worn, such as sealed face masks, eye protection and gloves.

Following transport, responders should heavily disinfect, or, in worst case scenarios, incinerate any contaminated uniform parts. The transport should then be heavily disinfected with EPA-registered disinfectant or a 10:1 bleach solution.

"We have been told that the virus is not super hardy outside of the body, but it will last for a while, so we have to be extremely careful," Speaks said.

According to Speaks, this type of training is constantly changing due to the fluctuating nature of the virus' status.

"We got these guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health in September. It is now October and every day something is changing," he said. "When this was written, it was not in the United States. Now it's here. There have been more than one confirmed case, so we need to be mindful. This is your lives."

According to Speaks, personnel are to evaluate the patient, checking for symptoms of the virus, such as a fever greater than 101.5 degrees, headache, muscle ache, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained bleeding.

If a patient exhibits these symptoms, Speaks said that there are two hospitals in the area that are equipped with proper containment rooms: Northside Hospital-Forsyth and Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

Organizers are already anticipating a completely new way of dealing with anyone who shows these symptoms at all.

"This is going to be a dynamic change in things. We don't know how it's going to affect procedure or how we treat patients at the scene," said Battalion Chief Jamerson Kerby. "If it's a true pandemic status, the CDC is going to tell us do not transport these people."
Speaks agreed, but did his best to alleviate concerns.

"[The CDC] isn't there yet. If we prepare for this properly, it shouldn't be," he said. "While this is a dynamic, ever-changing situation, the potential for this may be there, but it's up to us to do our best to protect ourselves and the people here."

Speaks said that the best way residents could help out is that, if you do suspect you may be exhibiting symptoms or have been exposed to someone with Ebola-like symptoms, to relay that information to 911 dispatch immediately.

"Our biggest weapon will be information," Speaks said. "We will be in constant contact with dispatch and, if the patient gives us all of the information they can, such as travel history and symptoms, we can properly prepare for this."