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Program teaches first responders how to protect themselves on overdose calls

A program that first started in West Virginia focuses on the dangers first responders face when responding to the scene of an overdose. (WCHS/WVAH)

A program that first started in West Virginia focuses on the dangers first responders face when responding to the scene of an overdose.

Since September, the presentation has been delivered in surrounding counties and states and will be open to first responders in St. Albans this week.

First responders such as St. Albans firefighter Brandon Price head to the scene of an overdose with the goal of saving a life, but hazardous materials instructors said the chance that fentanyl could be on scene puts first responders in danger just by doing their job.

"Sometimes you just go on autopilot and do what you're trained to do,” Price said.

While focused on saving others' lives at the scene of an overdose, Price said protecting himself and first responders around him is equally important.

"When you start going in, don't just simply focus on the patient but know what's going on around you,” Price said.

With West Virginia seeing a high number of overdoses daily, hazardous materials Instructor Thomas Miller teaches first responders about the deadly chemicals that could be present at an overdose scene such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

“There are numerous documented cases of first responders around the country who required acute medical interventions including the administration of naloxone or Narcan in order to save their lives,” Miller said.

One thing Miller stresses in the unified fentanyl safety course is that fentanyl is a toxic material, inhalation hazard and lethal by accidental ingestion and absorption.

"This is one of the classes that's not about doing your job to help the victim. This is about doing your job to help yourself and protect yourself so that everyone goes home,” Miller said.

He said the goal is to change the mindset of first responders such as Price to see themselves as potential victims too when responding to the scene of an overdose.

"It allows us to be safer. It makes us better providers of EMS care to the patients as well. Also, we don't want to add any more patients to an EMS scene, that being ourselves,” Price said.

The program is only open to fire and police departments, EMS workers, 911 center representatives and emergency nurses. It will be held 2 p.m. Friday at the St. Albans Fire Department.

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