Emergency crews respond to Ebola scare stemming from language barrier

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A communication gap leads to an Ebola scare. It started out as a normal, quiet morning on W. Windlake Avenue, near south 13th St. But then the emergency crews arrived, and Romana Rivas got nervous.

"When you see the red tape and you see everybody standing in the street looking at our house and you don't know what to think. I thought maybe carbon monoxide, a virus -- I even thought of Ebola," said Rivas.

That actually wasn't far-fetched though. When the medical call came in, Ebola couldn't be ruled out because the patient was symptomatic but it wasn't clear if he had been in West Africa.

"All we got was that they traveled to Africa and we couldn't ask the rest of the questions because of the language barrier," Fire Assistant Chief, Daniel Berendt.

Before emergency crews put on the full protective gear, an interpreter was called in.

"So when I come. I recognized them. So this is our people, Somalis -- my people, my community," said Ibdir Zik, interpreter.

According to the interpreter, the family, recent residents of Milwaukee are from Somalia, East Africa -- far, far away from the regions of West Africa dealing with Ebola -- and their last visit to Africa was more than 21 days ago.

"It just turned into a regular medical run," said Berendt.

Relief for emergency crews but confusion for the family.

"The wife, she told me 'I just called the ambulance and when I see they closed the road,' she was scared. She said 'what's going on? Why are all these people coming, what happened, just my husband was sick,' she's just really confused," said Zik.

The interpreter was able to explain the situation to the family and assure them everything was okay. He was a breath of fresh air for a very emotional Rivas too.

FOX6 News' Beverly Taylor asked "So you're not afraid of Ebola anymore?" Rivas said "(laughs) not in this neighborhood, but I am scared of Ebola. And if you have to take precautions to protect us, you take the precautions."

The fire department says with limited information it enacted its Ebola protocol -- just in case it turned out to be the real thing.

The Milwaukee Fire Department is the designated emergency transport for diagnosed Ebola patients in southeast Wisconsin.