Tennessee first responders face deadly dilemma when confronting fentanyl

Special Reports

The calls never stop, and the risk is only greater.  

They come with increased danger, as police, fire and EMT’s are dealing with the deadliest drug in America.  

As recently as last week I had one of my officers exposed to fentanyl, explained a Tennessee police captain. It required a trip to the emergency room, and several hours of follow up care to get him back on his feet. 

First responders are the first lines of defense, and the first to be exposed to fentanyl

It’s an extremely, extremely powerful drug and it will kill the person who uses it, said Jon Brewer, a Lawrenceburg Fire captain and medical officer.

Brewer said the drug itself is only half the danger. Because Fentanyl is regularly added to other substances, officers can’t always know it’s fentanyl they’re facing.  

“It’s really hard to tell honestly, unless whoever is around knows that it is fentanyl,” said Brewer. If it’s a known overdose and we have a hint that’s going on, we will wear the masks, the eye protection, and ensure our arms are covered.   

Responders are trained on Body Substance Isolation, which is a fancy way of saying personal safety is top priority. The heavy-duty hazmat suits they carry are the proof they’re not messing around, otherwise it could mean their life. 

Just a single grain can touch us, and we can overdose with that drug, said Brewer.  

Sheriff’s deputies in Memphis dealt with several scares late last summer. In one case, Shelby County officers tell News 2, a deputy gave himself Narcan, fearing he ingested, or came into direct contact with Fentanyl. At the time, he was moving contaminated items.   

During the same span, affiliate WATN Memphis reported three fentanyl exposures involving officers, in two weeks. In August of 2018, a Shelby County captain illustrated why these vulnerabilities were easily exposed. 

You can have enough airborne Fentanyl and not be able to see it, and still have a potentially fatal overdose, said Captain Chuck Mays. 

Two grains of Fentanyl are enough to kill anyone. According to the CDC, first responders run the greatest risk when collecting evidence, or decontaminating crime scenes.  

Protective clothing like masks, goggles, gloves and sleeves are essential, but EMT’s will hesitate to call them full proof. That only re-emphasizes the risk and the reality of a drug, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.  

News 2 is investigating the impact of fentanyl across Middle Tennessee. We have special reports all day Thursday in every newscast. You can also join in on the discussion during a live town hall meeting airing at 6:30 p.m. on News 2.

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