ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 16 -- Sgt. Jerry Wargo, a Prince George's County firefighter in Silver Hill, remembers being summoned in December 1986 to the scene of an attempted suicide where he discovered a 19-year-old man, bleeding profusely, submerged in a bathtub.
Alarmed by the sight, Wargo and a colleague reached swiftly into the tub's bloody water with their bare hands to remove the young man, who had slashed his wrists, arms and chest with a large knife.
Moments later, Wargo saw a suicide note in which the young man apologized to his parents for being homosexual.
The news frightened Wargo, who feared that the man he had saved was infected with AIDS. If so, the firefighter feared, he could have contracted the fatal virus through a small cut on his hand.
But when Wargo implored the hospital that treated the man to tell him whether he was infected with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the hospital refused, saying it could not violate the patient's privacy.
Today, Wargo recounted the incident before a committee of state senators that is considering whether to require doctors to notify firefighters or paramedics if they have come into contact with someone discovered to have AIDS.
He was one of a string of firefighters and emergency medical technicians who appealed to Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee to pass the bill, which is one of nearly two dozen pieces of legislation on AIDS that have been introduced into the General Assembly this year.
The notification, Wargo and others said, would help to reassure members of their profession, who routinely touch the blood and semen of the people they rescue -- and thus are uncommonly likely to contract AIDS.
AIDS is transmitted through bodily fluids.
"The amount of stress and pressure placed on our families and ourselves is unbearable," Wargo said, explaining that he has been tested three times for AIDS since the incident -- each time with negative results -- but still remains worried.
Linda Latreille, the wife of a Baltimore County firefighter said, "I live every day with the fear of my husband being injured or killed. Now there is a new fear to deal with: exposure to AIDS."
The bill, sponsored by Sen. George W. Della (D-Baltimore), in essence would broaden a law enacted two years ago that requires the notification of rescue workers if they have been exposed to one of six communicable diseases, including hepatitis or rabies. AIDS would be added to that list. The workers would be informed only of their exposure, without identifying who had transmitted it.
Opponents contend the measure would violate the confidentiality of patients' medical records, and that it would make hospitals liable for the breach of that confidence. Members of a gubernatorial AIDS task force have suggested that rescue workers be notified only if they request the information.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County), a nurse, indicated that the bill might be helpful but said that workers would be better protected by taking preventive measures, such as wearing rubber gloves and masks.