Hazmat scare shuts down ER

Firefighters responded to a report of a possible hazmat situation involving a walk-in patient in the emergency room of Eastside Medical Center early Monday.

According to fire officials, a man reportedly came to the hospital after opening a package at his home and being exposed to what he believed to be an unknown substance. He received the package in the mail about a month ago, but just now opened it.

Cpt. Tommy Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department, said the hospital realized the potential threat and possible need for decontamination.

"Hospital staff quickly isolated the man to the immediate area outside the ER entrance," Rutledge said. "The staff then alerted a Gwinnett County Fire Department ambulance crew that was currently at the hospital."

The crew notified the fire department's hazardous materials response team and additional equipment was dispatched to the scene just after midnight.

"Hazmat Technicians were able to perform an initial decon on the man and also tested the substance inside the package," Rutledge said.

Monitors revealed that no chemical, biological or radiological threat existed. Further testing indicated that the substance was dextrose and water (sugar water) and was not a hazardous material.

According to officials, patient walk-ins and non-critical ambulance traffic at the ER were temporarily interrupted until firefighters and police were able to declare the situation under control.

Patients who were already in the ER and those on patient care floors throughout the hospital were not affected.

The hospital continued to operate as normal during the incident and no evacuations were necessary. An ambulance was staged at the hospital entrance to handle any emergent walk-ins, but none were reported.

"We are fortunate that this incident occurred in the early morning hours, when the hospital was less congested and the impact was minimal. Hospital employees reacted appropriately and minimized the threat to staff and patients," said Gwinnett Fire Captain Tommy Rutledge.

The incident was under control at about 1:30 a.m.