As we make progress confronting COVID-19, the Ebola Virus is rearing its head again across Africa. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states the likelihood of contracting Ebola in the United States is very low. However, the significance of the spread should prompt IAFC members to review the recommendations for fire chiefs when thinking through responses to potential Ebola patients. There are many similarities in response to COVID-19 and Ebola patients; however, the latter require additional precautions and considerations.
In 2014, the United States faced a serious public health risk as the first sustained transmissions of Ebola occurred within the nation. Fortunately, this risk was contained, but it propelled fire departments to plan for encountering Ebola patients. This threat caused the IAFC to establish an Ebola Task Force that developed guidances and recommendations for fire chiefs and their medical directors. This Task Force’s recommendations cover topics ranging from caller screening strategies to selection of personal protective equipment and hazardous waste management schemes.
The world is watching the current outbreak of Ebola Virus in the Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The international community is working to contain the virus and the US government is checking travelers arriving in from these regions. Nevertheless, IAFC members should review the Ebola Task Force recommendations and ensure their personnel are proficient in screening callers, selecting and using the correct PPE, and handling hazardous medical waste. Some of the documents referenced in the Ebola Task Force’s recommendations are no longer maintained by the federal agencies that created them. They remain of value for review. Fire chiefs also should consult with their medical directors when reviewing these documents as some of these preparations may already be in place in the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Prior preparation and planning are key to safe and efficient responses. Fire departments pre-plan for hazmat responses, terrorist attacks, and large structure fires. Major virological outbreaks deserve equal attention and should be planned for like any other mass disaster. Ebola is significantly different from COVID-19 and requires distinct planning. Take some time today to include Ebola responses in your planning and preparations.
Evan Davis is a strategic government relations manager for the IAFC