Sick man's 911 call sparks hazmat response amid Ebola fears

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CDC: Man not infected with Ebola

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Fire Department took no chances when they launched a hazardous-materials response to a call regarding an ill man in downtown Phoenix late Monday morning.

The man was in a courtroom at the Phoenix Municipal Courthouse for a proceeding when he called 911 to report that he was feeling sick. He also reportedly said his wife had recently traveled to Liberia, which is where doctors are struggling to control an outbreak of Ebola.

The outbreak has dominated headlines in recent weeks, sparking fears about the disease turning up in the U.S. and those who might have been exposed either while traveling or through contact with travelers.

Capt. Mark Vanacore of the Phoenix Fire Department said the man's claims were "completely unsubstantiated." A doctor with the Centers for Disease Control interviewed the man and determined that he is not infected with Ebola.

The man reportedly has not traveled to West Africa nor has he had contact with anyone who is infected, according to the CDC doctor..

"The likelihood, she says, is pretty much at zero," Vanacore said.

Not knowing that at the time, firefighters opted to err on the side of caution. That is standard procedure any time they suspect a communicable disease  -- any communicable disease -- might be an issue.

"We do not take any chances. ... We took all necessary precautions," he said. "We did go the extra mile today because this is a public building, and we obviously want to ensure the utmost in public safety. ... This is just what we do."

Vanacore said the man's only obvious symptom was a cough.

Photos from the scene showed the man laying on the ground outside the building. Vanacore described it as "a position of comfort."

Vanacore said it is safe to enter the court building.

"I do believe that the room he was in has been shut down until we can piece together exactly what it is that happened here," he said.

Police are looking into the matter.

Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department said about 20 people were in the courtroom at the time. They were identified and asked for contact information, but they were not quarantined because they did not have any physical contact with the man.

According to the CDC, Ebola is not airborne but is spread through "direct contact with blood and body fluids of a person infected by and showing symptoms of Ebola."

Crump said he would not offer any hypothesis about the situation.

"We will see if it was done intentionally or unintentionally," Crump said. "We're going to have to figure out exactly what has occurred and how that information came to us."

It is not clear if the man could face charges.

"...[I]t will go to an investigative detail to see if it meets the elements of a crime," Crump told 3TV's Erika Flores via email.

The man has not been identified. It is not known how he was involved in the court proceeding for which he was present.

Vanacore said the resources assigned to Monday's call were nothing out of the ordinary and are available 24/7.

"These resources that we have here on scene today are our day-to-day resources that we have in service to handle these emergencies as they come up," he said.

Third Avenue was closed between Adams and Jefferson streets while firefighters were on the scene.