First responders brace for Ebola encounters

For health care workers, the Ebola virus presents a deadly threat -- beginning with first responders.

"We never know what we're walking into on an emergency, especially when someone invites us into their home who exhibits these symptoms," said Crystal Wilfong, an Emergency Medical Technician in North Carolina.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a detailed checklist to hospitals specifying how to respond to potential Ebola infections. But some health care workers say the measures aren't being put into effect quickly enough.

In an online survey conducted last week by National Nurses United, nearly 77 percent of the more than 1,500 nurses polled said their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola.

"We want to make sure that we have the correct equipment, the protective equipment, to protect both our patients and ourselves," said Katy Roemer, who's worked as a nurse in California for the last 20 years. Asked if she and her colleagues currently have access to hazmat suits, Roemer answered, "Not that I know of."

Health care workers in Africa responding to the outbreak have been seen in full hazmat gear. But in the U.S., the CDC's guidance only calls for the use of face masks, gloves and fluid-resistant gowns.

"While we are learning about this virus -- and I think there's still a lot to be learned about this virus -- we would like to have the highest level of protection," Roemer said.

Other hospitals say they're prepared. At San Francisco General Hospital, Ebola kits for workers are ready to go.

"We feel like we do have the supplies and the training to be able to protect our healthcare workers," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Winston.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.