Firefighters Worry About Hep A Exposure After Being Contaminated By Feces

Monday, September 25, 2017
By Susan Murphy
Photo by Susan Murphy / KPBS
Above: San Miguel firefighters do maintenance on a firetruck, while some of their crew mates are being checked by doctors for possible exposure to Hepatitis A, Sept. 25, 2017.

About a dozen San Diego firefighters were being seen by doctors on Monday after being contaminated a day earlier with human feces, and there is concern over a possible exposure to hepatitis A, said fire spokesman Stephen Moran.

The San Miguel firefighters got a call early Sunday morning for a vegetation fire in a Spring Valley canyon, but they arrived to find much more than flames. The canyon bottom was covered in homeless encampments.

“One of our firefighters during the firefight stepped into a bucket, a 5-gallon bucket of fecal matter that some of the homeless people had left,” Moran said.

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The firefighter slipped and fell, injuring his back, Moran said. The other firefighters continued dousing the one-acre blaze.

“And then later as we put the fire out and started to do overhaul, we realized that there were a large amount of fecal matter and urine down in the bottom of the canyon that we had been walking through and sprayed upon us, that had gotten all over crews’ safety gear and hose,” Moran said. “So at that point, we contacted County Hazmat.”

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The firefighters and most of their gear were decontaminated at the scene. However, the crew decided to leave one of their hoses behind.

“We still have a couple hundred feet down in the bottom of the canyon because it’s in the middle of the feces and urine,” Moran said.

San Diego County’s hepatitis A outbreak has killed 16 people and sickened more than 400. The majority of the cases have been homeless people, according to the County Department of Health and Human Services.

The hepatitis A vaccine is not typically given to firefighters, but Moran said they all plan to get the shot this week.

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Being a firefighter means being ready for anything, he said.

“Sometimes we have to think on our feet, cause as a first responder you’ll think, ‘Oh this is just a simple call,’ and then suddenly something else comes into play."