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Tennessee Fire, EMS Personnel Denied Access to Patient

Public safety officials hope a meeting in the near future will help avoid a recurrence of an incident Thursday at the Knoxville Zoo, when emergency personnel were denied access to treat a 5-year-old boy reported to have been injured by a camel.

A visibly upset group of Knoxville Fire Department first responders and paramedics with the Rural/Metro Ambulance Service were forced to wait outside the entrance of the zoo by a zoo security officer. The emergency personnel treated the child after his mother brought him - alert, conscious and crying - to the zoo entrance.

The boy was transported by ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. His condition and name were not available. "We will be having meetings with zoo officials so something like this doesn't happen again," said KFD spokesman Capt. D.J. Corcoran.

KimSepesi,publicinformation officer with Rural/ Metro, declined to discuss the incident Thursday. She referred questions to the Knoxville Zoo.

Sepesi, however, said Rural/ Metro officials would like to participate in any meetings to enhance understanding of the needs of emergency providers and the zoo.

"The ultimate goal is to take care of the patient," she said.

Corcoran said the Knox County E-911 Center got a cellphone call from inside the zoo at 11:58 a.m. saying "a child had been trampled by a camel." Rural/Metro didn't transport the child until 12:23 p.m., Sepesi said.

Knoxville Zoo Executive Director Jim Vlna said the call was made by a female physician in the zoo.

"We had no idea what was happening," Vlna said of the injured boy. "We found out basically when the Fire Department arrived."

Vlna said the zoo ranger stopped first responders at the gate because of a report of an animal on the loose. By the time zoo officials determined the animal was a camel, the mother of the injured boy had refused medical treatment, Vlna said.

"Under normal circumstances, they (first responders) would be escorted in, but we had a report of an animal on the loose," Vlna said.

Vlna, however, was unable to explain why the mother changed her mind and had the boy rushed to a hospital once outside the entrance.

Vlna also had no explanation for why his employees would know about a camel possibly loose but not know the same camel had injured the boy.

"These are just bits and pieces we're trying to put together right now," Vlna said. "Right now, I don't know."

Vlna said the incident occurred at the camel rides. A 400-pound baby camel in the enclosure separated by a 3-foot-high wooden fence apparently was startled by an employee spraying fly repellent in the area, he said.

The camel partially jumped the fence, trapping the boy between the fence and the camel's leg, Vlna said. He said the boy had no visible injuries.

"EMS (emergency medical services) would have been let in if the child had serious injuries," Vlna said.

Vlna said that in the end, the situation boiled down to "a communications issue."

"We've already talked about it," he said. "If they get a call to the zoo, for them to call us and let us know," he said.

But Vlna said he was willing to discuss the issue further with emergency responders to develop a protocol for future incidents.

Vlna said zoo officials do meet with the Knoxville Police Department to develop policies on how to deal with a dangerous animal on the loose and the use of firearms. But they have not met in the past with the Fire Department so that first responders would be familiar with the 54-acre zoo.



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