BLENDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WZZM) -- Firefighters say a state policy concerning a life-saving device for allergic reactions, EpiPens, put lives at risk.
The WZZM 13 Watchdog team is looking into why some firefighters are not allowed to carry EpiPens, while some non-emergency workers can. EpiPens are available in schools, but not some fire departments.
Teachers can use them, but some firefighters, who are often on the front lines of a medical emergency, cannot.
"The worst thing I've ever experienced," recalled Chuck Weaver, who said he nearly died waiting for an EpiPen. Weaver says he suffered eight bee stings and went into shock.
"There's no way to describe the pain," Weaver said.
Weaver and the firefighters who responded to help him see eye-to-eye about the policy for the life-saving EpiPens.
"It's tough for him, and it's tough for the responders," says Kurt Gernaat, the Blendon Township fire chief. "We needed to administer epinephrine, and we didn't have any."
That's because state law does not authorize Blendon Township firefighters and many other Michigan fire departments to carry EpiPens.
"I was surprised that we had to wait for an ambulance to deliver the EpiPen," Weaver said.
Chuck Weaver took WZZM 13 back to the scene where he described the timeline this past summer. He was clearing the fields on his mower when he says he rolled over the bees nest.
His allergic reaction happened only a short distance from his family's house.
"I started to lose my eye sight, so then I knew I was in trouble," Weaver said. He raced through the hayfield to his daughter in law's house.
"Dropped on the floor and just said bees, 911," Weaver said.
Then he waited for a firefighter to respond, who was also forced to wait for an ambulance.
"It seems like forever when you're in those situations, but I bet it was another five to seven minutes before Life got on scene," said Trevor Overweg, a Blendon Township firefighter who was first on scene. "Yes, an extra five minutes could have helped quite a bit," Overweg told WZZM 13.
Firefighters, like Overweg, are certified as medical first responders, but they are not allowed to use EpiPens, unlike paramedics with a higher level of training.
Yet, even non-emergency workers, like teachers, are allowed to use EpiPens. Gernaat knows one of those teachers, in particular, quite well.
"It's kind of frustrating that my 22-year-old daughter is authorized to use it after 30 minutes of training, and I've been a firefighter, MFR, for 25 years and been through continuing education training all of those 25 years and I still can't use it," Gernaat said.
Gernaat also points to the inconsistency of a recent state law that requires firefighters to use Narcan for heroin overdoses, yet they're not allowed to use EpiPens to treat allergic reactions.
WZZM 13 spoke to a paramedic who says EpiPens are simpler to use than Narcan. We asked the paramedic if it would be hard to train a firefighter how to use Epipens.
"No, with their level as a medical first responder, they know about allergic reactions," says Sgt. Steve Wolbrink, the EMS coordinator for the Allendale Fire Department.
Wolbrink is in charge of training emergency responders in the area, and yes, teachers, too.
WZZM 13 brought the concerns to State Rep. Daniela Garcia, who is on the state's health policy committee. Garcia said that she became aware of the issue last summer. As to why teachers are allowed to use EpiPens and emergency officials can't, Garica said there's confusion, and lawmakers are looking into it.
"There is some confusion around it," Garcia said. "That is something that we're looking into."
"I think this is an outdated policy that needs to be updated," says Chief Gernaat. "I believe it is putting lives at risk."
A spokesman for Garcia told WZZM 13 that after we contacted her, she began putting pressure on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The department told her they plan to update their policy in March.