By John Ramos

PITTSBURG (CBS SF) — Young asthma sufferers had an opportunity see a doctor free of charge Thursday, as a mobile pediatric clinic set up shop in the East Bay.

During summer wildfire season, the bad air can present problems especially for asthma patients. A mobile clinic known as the “Northern California Breathmobile” Thursday was taking in young patients at Parkside Elementary School in Pittsburg.

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The Northern California Breathmobile has been in operation since 2009. Thursday’s visit was the first in East Contra Costa County.

The Breathmobile is a converted 33-foot Winnebago RV that goes into working-class communities to identify those who may not be diagnosed until they end up in the emergency room. Then, appropriate drugs are prescribed and families are trained to use them properly.

It’s having a dramatic effect. “Within the last year we’ve reduced ER visits about, I believe it was about 70 percent … yes, and school absenteeism as much,” said Breathmobile Coordinator Chris Venenciano.

Poorer neighborhoods have a much bigger problem with asthma because they’re usually closer to freeways or pollution sources that can trigger an attack. But the large fires in the foothills have sent clouds of smoke into the Bay Area – sending people like eight-year-old Cesar Rancheria to the Breathmobile. Sometimes has difficulty breathing. It may just be allergies or it could something more serious.

“It hurts me right here (points to chest) when I run and breathe,” said Cesar.

“When you don’t speak the language, or – culturally – you’re used to, ‘Well, if it gets bad enough I’ll call 911,’ we want to change those kinds of habits,” said Breathmobile Program Director Mary Frazier, R.N.

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Breathmobile patients are not charged for their visits nor for any medication they receive.

Though he doesn’t like admitting it, the driving force behind the Breathmobile is retired pathologist Dr. Washington Burns. Eighteen years ago, he began directing a philanthropic group called the Prescott-Joseph Center to improve lives in West Oakland.

“I was heavy into art and culture,” said Burns. “We had theatre and that stuff.”

Reporter: Then you decided maybe it’s important for people to be able to breathe?

“That’s exactly right!” said Burns.

The program now serves 25 sites in the East Bay, according to the Prescott-Joseph Center.

The Breathmobile will return to the school every four-to-six weeks to provide follow-up treatment and education for kids with asthma.

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