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Ebola Scares Test Emergency Crew Protocols in Sacramento

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SACRAMENTO-

New Ebola scares are testing protocols for local emergency crews in Sacramento County.

Tuesday, this situation played out over police scanners:

Dispatcher: "Are you guys still staging or where are you guys?"

Incident Commander: "We're still in our rig outside and...waiting for more specifics on the patient...your crew just showed up..we're trying to figure out how to dress everyone appropriately."

That's part of the scanner traffic of a Metro Fire District call responding to what could have been Sacramento's first confirmed Ebola patient.

No one envisions paramedics in 'pause mode' outside a place where someone's sick, but the chief of Metro Fire's EMS division says the pause equals protection.

"We can't overreact. We have to go slow to go fast," Metro Fire Assistant Chief for the EMS Division Maurice Johnson told FOX40.

"Make sure that the patient stays in their apartment and does not leave," the scanner chatter continued Tuesday.

While that instruction was being relayed to a patient who feared her flu-like symptoms were tied to contact with a visiting relative who'd recently traveled to Ebola- ridden West Africa, incident commanders on scene were working the phones.

"Our crew contacted our hazmat team - myself in EMS and asked for additional guidance," Johnson said.

Then came a flurry of back and forth calls to county EMS administrators and the county public health officer.

Finally, based on the patient's two weeks of sickness, three weeks past visit, a decision was made.

"It was determined by the county public health officer than we did not need to take any Ebola preparations and so we simply treated this as flu-like symptoms as we would with any other patient," Johnson said.

FOX40 was told the time it took to get that clearance isn't documented, only that crews arrived at 8:07 p.m. Tuesday and began transport to UC Davis Medical Center at 9:42 p.m.

A Sacramento City ambulance was diverted from that call Tuesday.

But the agency has spent the last week fine-tuning new guidelines allowing crews uniform ways to increase protection above current CDC standards if Ebola may be at the root of a call.

Spokesman Roberto Padilla likens the flexibility protocol to avoiding sunburn.

"Having the ability to say we recommend you put on a sunblock of 5, but we provide our firefighters with a sunblcok of 10," he said as part of the example.

A stepped-up protocol measure may include going from gloves and gowns to use of a full hazmat suit on a call.

"Whatever the situation is we're really good at adapting  and adjusting to whatever the situation is because ultimately we still have a responsibility to provide service," Padilla said.