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Medical Teams, TVF&R team up for relief

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - TVF&R Battalion Chief Ian Yokum helps direct aid supplies at a medical clinic in Guiuan, in the Philippines. Yokum is one of several firefighters helping out Medical Teams International with its relief effort after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit Nov. 8.When Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince was destroyed in an earthquake in 2010, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighters were there to help treat the wounded, fight a rampant cholera outbreak and help get food and other necessities into the right hands.

A year later, when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, they stepped up and did it again.

Now, with the death toll from super Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8 exceeding 4,000 and still climbing, TVF&R personnel are back at it.

Last week, Medical Teams International — a charity and disaster-relief organization based on Southwest Milton Court in Tigard that sends medical supplies and aid to countries around the world — sent the first team of five medical professionals to the city of Cebu in the Phillipines.

Of those five volunteers, nearly all were Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighters.

The two agencies have been working together for more than a decade, with firefighters and first responders donating their time and money to help Medical Teams International provide assistance around the world.

“They have been an incredible partner for Medical Teams,” said Angela Pratt, a spokesman for the disaster-relief organization. “They are always ready, and their organization has gone out of its way to make themselves available to us.”

About 30 firefighters with TVF&R have responded to countries as far flung as Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Japan in the past decade, Medical Teams officials said.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Damage after Super Typhoon Haiyan was extensive in the Guiuan area where Medical Teams International and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue volunteers are working. The Nov. 8 storm left about 4,000 people dead and displaced thousands more.The firefighters volunteer on their own time. It’s estimated that TVF&R firefighters have donated more than 4,175 hours of assistance and training, Pratt said.

It’s a labor of love. Firefighters fund their trips on their own, paying about $2,000 and taking time off of their jobs to help others in need. In fact, Pratt said, when Medical Teams needs to send a disaster-relief team to assess the situation, it will often send TVF&R firefighters first.

“It comes from what they do in their day-to-day life as firefighters,” Pratt said. “They are the most equipped to respond in the face of an emergency, and they are experts at doing that really efficiently and effectively.”

A roster of first responders are on call with Medical Teams, ready to go at a moment’s notice when disaster strikes. “They have always been incredibly responsive when we’ve needed to deploy teams immediately,” Pratt said. “That’s what they do.”

TVF&R’s relationship with Medical Teams extends beyond just disaster relief, Pratt said.

“One of the things they excel at is creating a system. They are great at assessing logistics of how you set up, create triage and get everything in place so that other medical professionals can seamlessly slip in and do what they do best.”

The agency has worked with Medical Teams to help create an emergency medical services program in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and teams of TVF&R firefighters provided first responder refresher courses in Cambodia and Uzbekistan for hospitals throughout the country.

“Cambodia hadn’t had an effective 911 system for some time,” Pratt said, “MTI worked with Sri Lanka, and we started a trainer program where we and medical professionals went over and helped what few first responders they had, and those responders in turn trained others.”

The firefighters have also given special training to Medical Teams’ staff and volunteers. When arriving in a disaster-relief area, often doctors and nurses need to act more like first responders than traditional medical professionals.

News from the Philippines

Getting updates from the TVF&R team in the Philippines by phone has been difficult, Pratt said, but team members have been able to send emails back and forth relaying information.

Pratt said the situation in the Philippines has been going relatively well. The team has been focusing its efforts in Guiuan on the southern tip of Samar Island, one of the hardest hit.

“This island was the first island hit by the force of the typhoon,” Pratt said. “We like to focus on where we can have the most impact, and this is a place that had been impacted but not getting as much response.”

Battalion Chief Paramedic Ian Yocum’s team of TVF&R firefighters and paramedics include Lt. Robert Petracca and firefighter Dan Livengood of Station 67 in Beaverton; Lt. Jason Morgan, firefighter Kyle Leonard and Lt. Rich Stamps of Station 51 in Tigard; Lt. Rob Watson of Station 33 in Sherwood; and firefighter/paramedic Jeff Gillies of Station 50 in Tigard.

The men will be in place until the first week of December, Pratt said. More teams are heading out every day for Guiuan.

“There is not a lot of trauma or what we call ‘emergent needs,’ but the team is giving lots of wound care and being proactive because the opportunities for a disease outbreak and contaminated water are high.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The first team of Medical Teams International volunteers, led by TVF&R Battallion Chief Ian Yokum, second from left, departed Portland on Nov. 13. More teams will be sent throughout the week and will be providing medical services and aid through the end of December.With the devastation, many people with chronic illnesses can’t get access to medicine, Pratt said. The organization has sent enough medical supplies and emergency medicine to care for 10,000 people for about three months.

“Getting to these other remote areas has been really difficult,” Pratt said. “With the supplies that are coming in, it is a logistics challenge that affects the ability to get supplies where they are needed.”

It’s a big job, but Yocum is no stranger to running an operation. A battalion chief with TVF&R, Yocum is responsible for stations in Beaverton, Aloha and Rock Creek.

This is Yokum’s eighth mission with Medical Teams. A volunteer for the charity for close to a decade, Yokum first started volunteering after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which killed about 230,000 people and displaced millions more.

“Even though our team is small, just walking through the devastation and talking with the survivors has been rewarding,” Yocum told Medical Teams in an email. “They feel as if they are not forgotten.”

About 30 Medical Teams volunteers will be in Guiuan over the next several weeks. Medical Teams will continue sending teams to the area until at least the end of December, Pratt said.

To learn more about Medical Teams and the work it does with TVF&R, visit medicalteams.org.



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