It has been more than two months since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. However, we are still being asked about our involvement.
After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA contracted with American Medical Response to develop an Emergency Preparedness Network. This network is comprised of larger ambulance providers throughout the country to muster resources and respond to major incidents. We had been placed on standby for several events during the past few years; however, this was the first one that required a full deployment.
Roughly 36 hours before Sandy was to hit New York, we officially were notified to proceed, and within about 14 hours we were able to send seven ambulances, an advanced life support chase vehicle and 15 medics.
The team arrived Sunday night at Fort Dix, N.J., and within three hours they were split up into two separate teams and assigned to larger strike teams. One team was sent to Queens, and the other was sent to Staten Island.
Upon arrival in Queens, they were assigned to New York Fire Department EMS Division 4, where they responded to Queens 911 calls. The team weathered the storm, battling 80 mph winds and watching waves come in sometimes 30 to 40 feet high. This team also assisted the New York City Fire Department in a few water rescues.
Once the storm had passed and the 911 requests subsided, both teams were dispatched to Bennett’s Air Field in Brooklyn. The division leader was elated to find that our vehicles were equipped with advanced life support equipment and specially designed stairchairs. Apparently both were a rare commodity on the East Coast.
For the next two days they were assigned to evacuate the Coney Island Hospital with 170 patients, two nursing facilities in the Rockaway Beach area with 190 patients — some critical — and Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. All these buildings were multistory and without power.
While driving to Coney Island, the scene was surreal. There were boats in the middle of the streets, sand-covered roads and piles of abandoned, waterlogged vehicles scattered everywhere.
After four days of nonstop work, FEMA brought in trucks of food, showers and tents, which provided the teams with their first real opportunity to sleep. Because of the intense workload and rough conditions, we felt it necessary to relieve the first team after one week by sending out a second team of 14 medics who were stationed there for an additional 11 days.
In addition to the 29 medics who were deployed, the entire staff at Prompt also saw their workload increase because of the backfill necessary to maintain sufficient coverage for our local needs.
Participating in these activities not only provides the staff valuable knowledge but it also helps prepare us for major incidents that might occur locally.
This was a life-changing experience for all those who had participated. Thank you to Oscar Baca, medic and support services manager, for sharing his experience while assisting out East.