PARKERSBURG - The local fire department and law enforcement agencies are preparing for the worst as health officials warn that an H1N1 influenza outbreak is possible during the upcoming flu season.
Chief Eric Chichester, with the Parkersburg Fire Department, said he is taking all necessary precautions to protect firefighters and the public from the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. With the department also responding to medical emergency calls, firefighters will be prepared with face masks, disinfectants and gloves.
"We are always extremely careful with every medical call we receive, and it's part of our routine to use disinfectant and gloves," said Chichester. "But if H1N1 does resurface, we will enforce wearing face masks when responding to EMS calls."
Chichester said when the first few cases of H1N1 emerged in Parkersburg earlier in the year, masks and gloves were worn.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended certain people, including medical emergency personnel, receive the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it becomes available in the fall. Because the majority of Parkersburg firefighters are trained EMTs, Chichester said he will be recommending all firefighters get vaccinated against the regular flu as well as the H1N1 influenza strain.
"I plan on getting vaccinated as soon as it's available," Chichester said. "Our guys have the choice of getting the regular flu shot, but I'm looking into ways I can make it mandatory for them to receive the H1N1 vaccine."
In cases of staff shortages due to illness and sick days this fall and winter, the department will have to make do with what it has, he said.
"We could potentially lose up to 50 percent of our workforce in situations like this, because we really do all live in close quarters at the fire station," Chichester said. "There is no back-up personnel. My hope is that there is a large turnout for the H1N1 vaccine, which will reduce the impact of the virus on our city."
In the meantime, the fire department will be preparing for a possible outbreak and taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus among fire fighters, Chichester said.
Capt. Rick Woodyard with the Wood County Sheriff's Department said if a major outbreak occurs, law enforcement agencies will conform to certain guidelines and regulations set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"There are some measures that will be taken if H1N1 becomes an issue, such as officers guarding injection sites and helping out the medical community," said Woodyard.
While officers have a choice about whether to get a flu vaccination, Woodyard said county officials are recommending all Wood County employees receive the H1N1 flu vaccination once it becomes available.