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Whistleblower Prompts Change In How Sacramento City Fire Cleans Medical Tools

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A Sacramento city audit has found a tool first responders use to help save lives could be a major health problem.

The auditor's office was tipped off by a whistleblower who essentially accused Sacramento City Fire of using unsanitary tools. While the department had a cleaning procedure in place, lab tests showed the procedure may not have been good enough.

Laryngoscopes are metal blades used to help open a patient's airway through the mouth if they are not breathing or after unresponsive. After each intubation, that blade is washed and reused for the next patients.

"In the past, our procedure was the blade and the handle would be washed with antibacterial soap at the hospital, wiped down and put back in our bag for the next intubation," said Chris Harvey with the fire department.

In a recent finding by the city auditor's office, one of the cleaned scopes was taken to a lab for testing. the results found it wasn't properly sanitized.

"The scope that was tested did have contamination on it from a previous patient, that's all I was told," Harvey said.

After the audit, the fire department changed to disposable laryngoscopes, so the metal blade will now be thrown out while the handle will be washed and reused.

The department stresses it can never meet the sterilization levels of a hospital in the field, and that's not been their primary focus.

"Our ability to very quickly get in, get the airway rolled out get the intubation equipment out and get an airway in a person, hook them up to high-flow oxygen, supersedes any fear we have on any infection we may have down the line," Harvey said.

The new blades will cost about $7 apiece, with a yearly cost of roughly $2,000.

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