This is part II of my deployment to Gustav and then IKE. Please read part one....Hurricane Deployment elsewhere in these blogs.
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.
I found our contact person from AMR, (the nationally contracted Ambulance/EMS provider that we were subcontracted through) and asked him if this was legal? He was frantically on his phone trying to get an answer.
Once I realized that the Port Arthur Police (PAPD) were serious, I asked them what they needed from us. He said that they had about 20-25 people at a Civic Center in town that they needed evacuated. After talking to my group, some of whom were not that excited about the side trip, I told the cops that we would help.
We went to the town civic center with a Police escort, and loaded up all the people, family, wheelchairs, and belongings we could. This included 2 Bariatric patients that created their own difficulties to transport on standard cots.
While there the main cop that had first approached me about the "commandeering" stated that we were heroes. And that he wanted my name and contact numbers to tell our bosses what a wonderful thing we had done and that we were to be commended.
We then transported them all back to the Airfield. There was a 2 hour delay as the tarmac was full of other Ambulances and school buses off loading evacuees.
When we finally got off loaded the police said they needed us to transport some patients out of a hospital to another hospital further north in Beaumont because the local hospital couldn't withstand the storm.
This was approximately 2330 (11:30pm) of the day that started at 0600. I told the officers that we were extremely tired and that I didn't think we could help him on this one.
The mood suddenly changed.
The cops at the airfield said that we didn't have a choice. He had orders not to let us leave. I protested, but the cop I was talking to put his hand on top of his weapon and said "You don't have a choice."
So we left the airfield, once again, lights and sirens led by police.
This time we ended up at the hospital and loaded up patient to go to St. Elizabeth hospital in Beaumont. Once again we were "escorted" by numerous police cars with there overheads on.
Once at St. Elizabeth, I noticed that the police cars had blocked us in, both front and back! We checked our patients in and someone told me that the police wanted to talk to me.
I went over to the officers and they said "What the hell was that?" I truly did not know what he was talking about. He said he was tired of my F---ing games. Still not a clue. "What the hell are you talking about? I asked. He said you F---ing know! You call that driving?" I again asked what he was talking about and he replied "50MPH! Are you kidding me?" I asked him if that was too fast or too slow and he said "Too F---ing Slow!!! What the hell were you trying to pull. You know you guys always drive 80 or 90 MPH!"
I told him not with non-critical patients and their family on board. He started yell at me again and I walked away.
Soon one of my guys passed by him while returning his cot to his rig when the cop continued to yell, and soon a confrontation escalated. The next thing I know they were face to face yelling and the officer placed his hand on his weapon. I ran over and backed my guy off telling him that they shoot j-walkers in Texas, back off!
So now the cop was pissed. He said we had to move and move NOW! I explained to him that we had less than 1/8 tank fuel left in our trucks and his answer was ..."Then you'll just have to pick the people up and drive until you run out of gas."
After a little while and some arguing, i explained that our orders were to go to FORD PARK in Beaumont, rest, eat and get fuel. He said "Fine, then we'll take you to Beaumont and let you fuel then we will continue."
This was a break. I figured if we got to Beaumont there would be other Ambulances and Fema people there and we could end this Commandeering.
Unfortunately the PAPD also thought of this and decided they would led us to their fuel station and give us enough to finish out the night.
Enroute to their fueling station we passed an open Exxon station and we had credit cards for Exxon. There we filled up, got beverages and ice, some food and even joked around with the offices.
they posed for pictures with us and even gave us several cases of MREs. When we got back to the hospital after a few more transports, we were told there were 3 critical Vent pts that needed to go to the airfield for a Medical flight ASAP. Also we were told there was no portable vent available so we would have to bag them the whole way. I selected my partner and I plus two other teams that I knew had extensive vent experience.
We took the patients out of ICU and raced to the airfield (with our ever present police escort) bagging all the way.
Once at the airfield the officer in charge told us the planes were not on the ground yet and would be there about 0600. This was 0500. One hour without vents. Not good.
We had a couple of RNs ride along to assist in the back. When one of the patients started to become cyanotic, the RN insisted we return to the ICU. We left leading the PAPD to the hospital and got the pts back on vents. At 0600 we were informed that the planes were on the ground and we transported the pts once again to the airfield. Once on the plane we noticed the PAPD were no longer around.
We returned to the hospital and were informed by the hospital that the last 6 pts were ready to go.
One was to go to Scott White Hospital in Temple, the other 5 to go to San Antonio. This was at 730am. We were beyond exhaustion. On the last regular run, I witnessed one of our ambulance veer off the road about 5 ft with a patient on board.
After agreeing to take the patients and noticing the wind blowing much harder, we loaded up the patients. I decided to send a team of 5 ambulances with the one patient to Temple. That way a team leader would be in charge and he also had a fuel card. I told them to take turns sleeping and switch drivers often. They left. Still no police.
Next we determined who rested while the three vents pts were being transported. Those who rested would drive the 5 and the ones who bagged for 1 1/2 hour would sleep first. 5 patients, 10 ambulances. We would switch out often on the way to San Antonio.
It was almost over.....or so I thought.
We loaded up the 5 patient and were on the way out of the hospital when a guy asked me...."Hey, how many empty ambulances do you have?"
I said "NONE. They are all full of tired crews. We have the last 5 patients, we are going to San Antonio."
That's when he said that he was sorry but he was going to have to keep the empty ambulances here. Then he said something about 311 calls coming in from people who had changed their minds and now want to evacuate.
"Bullshit! We're out of here!"
We got in our trucks, lit them up and headed for the road.
As we were driving out of the parking lot 4 police cars came flying around the corner. One drove over a traffic island and cut me (the lead Ambulance) off, sliding sideways to block me. I made an evasive move and went around him, all the while with lights and sirens blaring. The other 3 police cars blocked in in 2 in the front, 1 behind. One officer opened his door and positioned himself behind it.
Quite a scene. 10 ambulances with lights flashing and 4 police cars nearly making a felony stop! Finally, after a few strangely silent seconds ticked by, the cop behind the door asked........"Where do you think you're going?"
Next up ....The Final chapter....." You are in imminent danger of death!"