I have just returned from Texas hurricane duty for our friends at FEMA. I was part of a huge EMS presence in the Gulf region. I was in one of roughly 1000 ambulances based out of Kelly AFB in San Antonio Texas.
There were also 1100 tour buses and 300 taxis located nearby.
I originally went down for Gustav, taking some 30 hours to drive a convoy of 15 ambulances from Michigan to San Antonio. I spent 10 days in the heat, often eating MRE's ( which I later discovered that eating the laxative gum is a must or it's constipation time) and sweating in the 98 degree heat in the middle of a parking lot with 2500 idling vehicles.
We spent our active times on "missions". I learned early that, as in the military, the standard is hurry up and wait. FEMA has some rules and practices that I would, as a Fire Chief, consider an incredible waste of time, right up to damn dangerous.
Here are some examples.......
We were sent out to evacuate patients from nursing homes and hospitals in the projected storm path to a safer location further up north. This usually entailed traveling 200-400 miles one way, with a patient that we had little or no information about. We were not required to write a run form or notify anyone of the patients condition or "officially" transfer care to anyone at the drop-off point. Mostly the care was given by volunteers with no known medical license.
We were to follow our original state medical protocols, although nothing was in writing as to that effect.
Due to the public attempting to evacuate, there were miles and miles (61 miles at one point) of bumper to bumper traffic headed north on a two lane road that required us (a convoy of 5, 10, 0r 15 med units) to travel left of center the whole way.
FEMA's policy is that if there are 2 or more ambulances traveling for a mission or returning to base, we were to run lights and sirens. Always. Siren use was usually reduced to intersections and blind curves or crossing traffic, maybe pedestrians nearby only.
We ran left of center for 61 miles passing stopped traffic headed north. Stopped got fuel, bathroom break, then back on the road, lights and sirens.
At times we were North bound with 15 of us and we would see another 10 or so coming south and yet still another long line of ambulances going thru the intersection East to West. It was nuts!
We would see cops sitting off on the side of a 2 lane road and we would go by at 60mph in a 40mph and just wave.
Now don't get me wrong, we evacuated a lot of patients. A lot. We ran non-stop. Which is my next complaint.
We worked non-stop for 24-30 hours without rest. Some were failing asleep at the wheel with patients on board!
And that was Gustav. It did not hit Texas. All of it was unnecessary. I am fully aware of the dangers of NOT evacuating. (See IKE below.) But these were risks taken beyond the point of good judgement and safety.
Now don't get me wrong. Some was done quite well. Fema did supply water and ice, almost a non-ending supply of water and ice.
And we did have some fun! I made a hammock out of a "Mega-mover" (roughly a bariatric tarp with handles) and tied it under a FEMA trailer to keep out of the sun. Also we had a baseball game using a long board splint for a bat, a roll of 3" tape with more tape wrapped around it for a ball. Taped a bed pan on my hand for a catchers mitt, and eventually took a cot mattress and belted it to me as an unpire protecting pad. This looked pretty funny as it was a couple of feet too long and extended onto the ground forward under the catcher! Lots of people stopped by to watch and take pictures. My only explanation was....."Hey, were from Detroit!" Somehow that seemed to explain everything.
We were released after 10 days to return to Michigan and drove another 30 hours home.
After 36 hours home I was re-deployed to IKE.
Another 30 hour drive to San Antonio.
This time with a different Manager/Supervisor in charge and I was named as the #2 guy in charge.
We arrived in SA and checked in. This is never a quick process as when FEMA is involved, the red tape is incredible. The logistics of something this size is just staggering. The apparent problem seems to be "too many Chiefs" and as a Chief, I should know.
After getting to bed (a cot in a warehouse with several hundred of my closest, snoring, farting new friends) at 0200 I was awakened at 0600 for a meeting.
We were informed that we were to go to Baytown Texas, approx. 285 miles S/E. and evacuate a nursing home.
We traveled to Baytown (6 strike teams...some 30 ambulances) in about 5 hours, fully lighted of course.
We evac'd the patients and took them to an airfield in Port Arthur Texas to be flown to San Antonio on C-130s.
Here comes the interesting part.........
While at the airfield, a Police officer approached me and asked how many ambulances and personnel I had. I told him I had 15 units with a total of 30 personnel. He said "Hmmm... I might just have to commandeer you boys."
" Really?" I asked. "And how does that work? We work for FEMA, a Federal Agency."
He said..." I have the authorization of the State of Texas and The Governor's office!" Trying to keep this light, one of my guys asked.."Gee, I"ve never been commandeered before....does it hurt?" His answer was ....
"Naw....Just don't clinch!".........Great.
So the story begins.........next blog........"COMMANDEERED IN TEXAS"