CROWN POINT | The fact that Franciscan St. Anthony Health Crown Point-affiliated paramedics volunteered to travel all the way to New Jersey to assist in Superstorm Sandy relief operations wasn’t lost on the locals.
“The emergency services personnel and the residents kept saying they couldn’t believe we came all that way to help them – and they were very appreciative,” said Tom Bettenhausen, a Superior Ambulance Service member who also serves with Crown Point Fire and Rescue and is the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 1 Emergency Medical Services Task Force leader.
Bettenhausen headed the local contingent, which consisted of four ambulances, three staffed by community-based medics who are under the medical direction of Franciscan St. Anthony Health.
The hospital’s EMS Academy trains the majority of emergency medical technicians and paramedics in south Lake County.
Hospital officials recently hosted a brunch-recognition program for the group, at which each member received a certificate of appreciation and accolades from hospital President David Ruskowki, Chief of Emergency Services Dr. Daniel Netluch, who also oversees the EMS Academy; academy Medical Director Dr. Stevan Vuckovic, deacon James Etter and academy Director Rob Dowling.
The medics discussed their experiences and presented a slide show that depicted the conditions they faced.
Besides Bettenhausen, the St. Anthony team included: Eric Schmitt, Mark Baumgardner and John Sarver, Crown Point Fire and Rescue; Eric Eshelman, Lakes of the Four Seasons Fire Department; and Brian Beach and Don Strom, St. John Fire Department. Also on hand were Superior Ambulance medics Joseph O’Parka and Dale Waters.
Dowling said the group was among those from Indiana’s 10 Homeland Security districts that responded to a nationwide request from New Jersey officials for resources as the storm was bearing down on the area in late October.
More than 30 ambulances from Indiana were part of the overall team, which departed early on a Sunday morning and returned the following Friday.
The local group assisted personnel in Brick Township, mostly with rescue and evacuation efforts that were needed following the surge of ocean water that inundated the area for miles inland. The medics also provided backup for 911 calls.
“They were using pay loaders to evacuate people, who would climb into the large bucket in the front and be brought to us. We shuttled people from the water to the firehouse. We also served as hospital backups,” Bettenhausen said, adding, “They were very nice people out there who really appreciated us.
"The local departments had a look of relief, knowing they had our support, and were amazed at how organized we were. We took on any mission they asked and accomplished it above and beyond.”
Sarver said the people they assisted were glad to see them, though many were dazed and shocked.
Asked why he volunteered, Sarver replied, “This is what the job is; helping people when they need it most. I jumped at the chance to go.”