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Preparing for the worst

Ryan Carter

Prompted by bioterrorism concerns, upcoming mass inoculation

programs and the need to filter out hype, Fire Department personnel

were schooled with information about smallpox vaccinations.

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“I wanted to get firefighters up to speed with what’s going on to

better understand the bioterrorism risks, should they encounter them,

and so that in case of an outbreak, we’d have people ready,” said

Nurse Educator Susan Hayward, who teaches weekly refresher courses

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for the department.

Though smallpox was thought to be eradicated in 1980 and experts downplay its efficacy as a weapon, the Bush administration has

expressed concern over the potential of enemies using it in the

United States.

As part of a federal inoculation program, county public safety

workers began receiving voluntary smallpox vaccinations last week.

Officials from Burbank are expected to be inoculated later this month

or early March on a voluntary basis, Hayward said.

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At least some Burbank firefighters are expected to receive

vaccinations, though labor unions have expressed concern about

compensation if employees suffer ill-effects from the vaccine.

Hayward spent last week informing firefighters of those effects,

who is prone to suffer them, adverse reactions and the difference

between smallpox symptoms and other ailments. Reactions to smallpox

vaccine include minor effects such as fever and body aching. But a

survey of those inoculated in 1968 found about 1 person per million

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died of the vaccine’s side effects. The same survey found that 52 of

every 1 million people suffered severe reactions, such as fever,

infections and brain swelling.

The smallpox sessions were just one of several measures the

department has put in place to bolster its bioterrorism response. All

city departments took part in a countywide bioterrorism drill in

November. Firefighters have also been issued anti-anthrax medication.

And all hazardous materials squad captains are taking outside classes

on bioterrorism response.

The education is helpful, firefighters said, because

bioterrorism-related issues were not stressed in firefighting school

in the years before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

“It’s very timely,” Burbank Fire Battalion Chief Ray Krakowski

said of Hayward’s classes. “But this was important because we wanted

to take the hype out of the information that’s been coming out and

understand what is fact and what is fiction.”


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