The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needed more staff fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and Jeremy Erickson didn't think twice about his decision to volunteer.
In late September, Erickson, who grew up in Waukesha and works as a program analyst for the CDC's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, packed his bags and took his analyst skills to Sierra Leone for a 30-day stint.
He arrived just as the epidemic was starting to subside and the CDC was beginning to draw down personnel and supplies.
In his regular job, Erickson, 40, analyzes program budgets, staffing and contracts as an 'operations and logistics' guy, he said. In Sierra Leone, he did much the same thing. He reviewed contracts and found building contractors to help the CDC move its headquarters from a hotel to a more suitable facility. He also helped figure out what should stay in Sierra Leone and what should come back to the United States as part of the drawdown.
'We were trying to figure out what do we have here currently, what people are planning to come, what are our needs, what do we need to leave here to prevent issues in the future,' he said.
Erickson also spent a day helping train about 50 border patrol workers so they could recognize the signs and symptoms of Ebola.
'There was still a real concern about people coming through the borders with Ebola,' he said, 'so we showed them how to wash their hands and how to identify symptoms (like fever) in people. We did inspections on their equipment to make sure all temperature gauges and thermometers were working right and that they knew how to read them correctly.'
There ended up being no active Ebola cases in Sierra Leone while Erickson was there, he said. Nevertheless, the risk that new cases would develop remained very real.
Erickson knows many people would have weighed that risk — and the risk of getting infected by the deadly disease — and they would have opted to stay home.
'I know there's a lot of fear and people are all, 'Why would you do it?'' he said. 'To me this was an unprecedented deployment for the CDC. Being able to be part of that and just helping one or two people if I could was enough (reason) for me.'
Plus — and this is how he assured his family in Waukesha that he would be safe — the CDC knew what it was doing.
'We've been deploying people since (the Ebola outbreak) begin in fall 2014,' Erickson said. 'We know how to handle this outbreak, to get people healthy again.'
Asked if he'd return if the CDC needed him again, Erickson doesn't hesitate.
'I would have no problem going back.'