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Paramedic’s Corner: How EMS handled our recent anthrax scare
Paramedic’s Corner: How EMS handled our recent anthrax scare

Gary Carmack
Readers will probably surmise (correctly) from the title that this article is due to the recent event at the Pulaski County Jail. I thought I would tell the readers more about what emergency medical services do when responding to this kind of incident.

Additionally, this is an opportunity to say “thank you” to several organizations whose staff members were operating behind the scenes.

Anthrax is a type of bacteria (bacterium Bacillus anthracis) and may remain viable in soil and animal products for decades. The effects on humans can be an acute infection of the skin, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract. If anthrax were to be used as a biological weapon, it is expected that terrorists would attempt to release anthrax spores in a strategic location to be inhaled.

Inhalational or pulmonary anthrax is a result of the bacterial spores being in the lungs causing fever, shock, and eventually death. The disease begins with a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms within one to seven days after exposure. After two to four days, victims may have severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, exhaustion, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), cyanosis (blue-colored skin due to low oxygen), and terminal shock. Pulmonary anthrax is nearly always fatal.

Upon arrival at a suspected anthrax release, the EMS incident commander does a situational assessment to determine many factors. Those include whether there are any direct exposures to the suspect material, whether there has been no direct exposure but people are in the same building as the suspect material, and so forth. It must be determined whether the contact been by inhalation or by skin contact.

EMS commanders must make plans for decontamination, triage, treatment, and transport. Questions related to those issues include how many potential victims are present and how many ambulances are needed. The EMS commander must contact other ambulances, hospitals, and other needed operations.

When Saturday’s incident struck the county jail, I immediately called General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital (GLWACH) ambulance personnel as well as the hospital’s medical staff. Hospital personnel immediately began processes in case we needed to transport patients there. The GLWACH Ambulance Director, Shane Hand, communicated with the hospital for me. In addition, he immediately sent an ambulance to stage at our ambulance base in case needed. Thanks are in order for Hand and for the GLWACH ambulance and hospital personnel — they are such a tremendous asset to our community.

My second call was to the Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) ambulance director, Ray Massey. PCRMC ambulance and hospital were briefed in case we would need ambulances and need to transport patients there. A third call was made to the Dixon Ambulance District for extra ambulances, and thanks are in order to all of those organization.

The next people I would have called would have been the Lebanon branch of St. John’s Hospital and St. John’s Ambulance. However, by that time the firefighters had tested the suspicious substance and found it to be safe, so the incident response was terminated. I then re-called the abovementioned facilities and informed them the incident was over.

Saturday’s incident showed an excellent job and teamwork by all professionals, and I was proud of our community’s response.

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