How firefighters protect themselves from fentanyl

How firefighters protect themselves from fentanyl

PARMA, OH (WOIO) - Fentanyl, carfentanil and heroin are drugs first responders are running into all the time while out on the job.

"This is a killer. It will kill you," said City of Parma Public Information Officer T.J. Martin.

The drugs aren't just taking lives, they're becoming barriers that make first responder's jobs even more difficult and dangerous.

"Time is of the essence when you're dealing with public safety and with lives, so our first priority, our first response, would be to save that life and secondarily to our own protection, unfortunately," Martin said.

Martin said overdoses have almost doubled in Parma. Drugs are getting stronger and the combinations are becoming more deadly.

"There are drug users that are in every day walks of life that are functional, but they catch a bad dose and die," he said.

Which means it's becoming more difficult for first responders to save lives. Sometimes they're administering more than 20 doses of Narcan.

"We've found that the initial amounts we used to use are no longer effective on the designer drugs that are out there," Martin said.

Firefighters have gloves, masks and gowns they can wear when responding to scenes, but it's hard to always be prepared because they don't know when fentanyl is in the air. Martin said there isn't a way to detect those drugs when they arrive to a scene.

"You don't necessarily know what you're going to walk into on one given occasion. Sometimes the callers aren't forthright with what the incident is, so we walk in and, unbeknownst to us, it's a heroin call, so our exposure to fentanyl, carfentanil and heroin has increased dramatically over the past few years," he said.

Martin believes the only real way to protect firefighters from those drugs is to educate people about the dangers. It's a step they're trying to do in Parma by going out into the community and talking to kids in high school. By doing that, they hope to reverse the opioid trend, stop the overdoses and keep first responders safe.

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