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Editorial: Handling Ebola crisis is job well done for Firestone

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There is at least one good story concerning Ebola coming out of West Africa. And that centers on how the Firestone Natural Rubber Co. unit of Bridgestone Corp. has handled cases of the deadly virus across its 185-square-mile plantation in Harbel, Liberia.

When Ebola became an epidemic that has killed thousands, those running the Firestone plantation didn't have any background in dealing with such a problem. As Ed Garcia, president of Firestone Natural Rubber said in one report, “It was like flying an airplane and reading the manual at the same time.”

In other words, they did what needed to be done when on March 30 the first case of Ebola was detected on the plantation, where about 80,000 workers and their families live. When they couldn't find a hospital to treat the woman, they set up their own Ebola ward. They used hazmat suits meant for dealing with chemical spills as protection for the hospital staff.

The staff also improvised and built two Ebola isolation clinics and, sadly, trained their janitors how to bury Ebola corpses.

Four months passed after the first case hit the plantation before the epidemic brought a stronger wave in August. The isolation ward was expanded, and about 50 cases were treated, with 18 surviving.

The top priority was to contain the virus as best they could. The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's team in Liberia praised Firestone for being “resourceful, innovative and effective.”

Recently, the cases of Ebola on the plantation have subsided, and the wards are nearly empty. There has been criticism that the effort wasn't extended to neighboring areas desperately needing helped, but Firestone's medical staff said they couldn't extend themselves without risk.

Even that criticism abated somewhat when a large family showed up at the plantation hospital, and all were admitted or quarantined.

Bridgestone officials, though, are sensitive to the praise. While they are proud of the work their staff has done—performed in conjunction with the Liberian government and other agencies—they know they are far from out of the woods. Although things are in a good state now, that can change daily with the Ebola epidemic.