WMVFC members recall hurricane aid
The members of the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company keep residents from all over Baltimore County safe during emergencies. Last month, they took their service and bravery outside of Baltimore’s borders to provide aid in the hurricaneravaged areas of Texas and Puerto Rico
When a call was put out, asking for first responders all over the county to drop everything and provide aid for these severely damaged areas, John Amrhein and Kevin Palmer of the WMVFC answered.
They were deployed in early September where, after a few weeks in Houston, Texas to service communi- ties affected by Hurricane Harvey, they were immediately transferred to Puerto Rico to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“Our ability to help fellow Americans in a time of need was extremely humbling. The nation was impacted by 4 hurricanes, 3 of them were major hurricanes and impacted Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the USVI. It was amazing to see such a massive and coordinated federal relief effort,” said Palmer.
The two men are members of the Maryland Disaster Medical Assistance Team 1, which falls under the National Disaster Medical System. The NDMS
system falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their mission is primarily medical related, said Palmer, who functions as a Paramedic on the team.
“We are responsible for providing disaster medical care in areas impacted by natural or man-made disasters. We also provide medical standby during National Security Special Events. In this instance critical infrastructure was damaged such as hospitals, shelters, clinics and roadways; therefore we established an emergency room in tents,” explained Palmer.
In Puerto Rico, their missions varied from supporting damaged hospitals, evacuating patients off the island, establishing medical shelters, and providing food and water to remote areas.
In Texas, Amrhein was assigned to a make-shift patient care center inside one of the practice gyms of a local high school where he worked twelve hours shifts doing patient intake, triage, basic medical treatment, advanced level treatment and preparing patients for transfer to definitive care centers. He said he treated everything from a simple cut to traumatic injuries.
“I learned that when the chips are down, there are people who still can pull together to make things happen. This applies to both the victims of the storm and the responders. The victims are amazingly resilient and a good attitude during a low time can go a long way,” he said.
“Sometimes just talking with these folks provide them the reassurance and strength to recover from the disaster,” added Palmer.
Despite the harshness of the conditions they were working in, it was the acts of human bravery and resiliency that kept the volunteers going. He recalls one story where 21-year old who was helping his neighbor tear out a waterlogged bathroom when a large piece of tile fell, cutting his head and causing a large laceration on his leg. However, he quickly bandaged it with paper towels and duct tape and kept working for several more hours until the job was done.
“Every deployment is a learning experience. You work with doctors, physician assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics, and pharmacist from all over the Country. Each of them bring an area of expertise from their day to day job. You always walk away with learning something new,” said Palmer. “In addition, you are able to take away lessons learned regarding mass causality care, disaster medical care, and public health emergencies. You also get a sense of cultural differences that exists in different parts of the country. In Puerto Rico, it was a tad challenging for me, because I am not fluent in Spanish, but by the time I left, I had the basics down”
Despite the work of thousands of volunteers like Palmer and Amrhein, Houston and Puerto Rico are still recovering. Palmer said the best thing we can do to help at home is following FEMA who manages volunteer assistance programs, on social media. FEMA will post ways community members can help and what donation items are needed. Amrhein urges residents to do their research before donating to an organization, as many fake charity groups will try to scam people out of money in the wake of tragedies.
He also said people should be prepared at home and have supplies and a plan ready because natural disasters can happen to anyone.
“Be prepared, that is the key along with the ability to adapt to situations.”
The WMVFC is currently located inside a building that is nearly 70 years old. In November of 2016, the County broke ground on the company’s new station on 10301 Philadelphia Rd.
For more information on the organization, visit www. wmvfc.org.
The crew of the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company.