First responders seeing increase in calls for breathing problems amid low air quality

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The grey smoky conditions blanketing the Central Valley are what firefighters say they would usually see in an area being ravaged by wildfires.

But with flames 60 or more miles away, the smell and sight are hard to escape.

For Fresno firefighters, this is the tool they are using more and more to help on the medical aid calls that require airway assistance.

"What we're seeing is if you have any underlying conditions, COPD, cardiac ischemia, maybe asthma, diabetes, your pregnant, the very old, the very young, all of these folks are being impacted," says Fresno Fire Battalion Chief Tony Escobedo.

Calls for trouble breathing are up 20 percent for Fresno City firefighters and crews say the cause is clear.

"Now with this situation, we find ourselves in with a soup of smoke," Escobedo said. "With all these particulates, unless you're wearing an N95 mask all the time or a P100 mask, which is the recommended for this type of environment, that's going to get into your lungs."

At Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center, waiting rooms are full of patients six feet apart.

"What we've been seeing in our office is a lot of people reporting coughing, throat clearing, asthma-like symptoms, even without the diagnosis of asthma," says Dr. Lauren Hiyama.

Usually, once school starts, things slow a bit. But this year, the filthy air has caused many who are sneezing and wheezing to seek treatment.

"When somebody has baseline or underlying allergies and you throw on top of that an irritant factor to it, it just amplifies the baseline symptoms," Dr. Hiyama said.

Doctors and first responders do not expect the patient volume to decrease, especially since the wildfires are still burning.

There's no weather system to clear out or clean out the air anytime soon.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.