Retired TVF&R deputy chief spends Thanksgiving volunteering in the Philippines

by: VERN UYETAKE - Kirk Hale will spend his Thanksgiving volunteering with Medical Teams International in the Philippines, where a recent typhoon left millions displaced. If Thanksgiving is known as a day of warm homecomings, you might say Kirk Hale is bucking the trend — and then some.

Instead of eating turkey and watching football, Hale — a retired deputy chief at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue who lives in West Linn — will spend his Thanksgiving in the Philippines, helping coordinate relief efforts in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon that struck the country earlier in November and left millions displaced.

According to the most recent government estimates, Typhoon Haiyan caused more than 5,000 deaths and 23,000 injuries. In the aftermath of the storm, foreign aid workers from around the world rushed into the country to help survivors.

Over the course of his 30-year career in fire service, Hale spent much of his time working with an “incident command system” that is used to manage and coordinate responses to disasters. Now, he’s putting those very same organizational skills to work in the Philippines as part of a team organized by the Medical Teams International nonprofit organization.

“We’ll be trying to bring organization to the chaos,” Hale said. “Everyone is going to have a job, and we’ll focus on safety and logistics, building plans and a needs assessment.”

Hale and his team departed Friday en route to the island of Cebu, and they are set to return stateside Monday. Depending on how much is accomplished in that two-week timeframe, a replacement team may be sent when Hale’s squad leaves.

Hale’s team was the second from Medical Teams International to arrive in Cebu. The first team landed Nov. 14 and was led by Ian Yocum, a battalion chief for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

“Obviously there’s mass devastation,” Yokum said in a Nov. 21 conference call. “We’re finding partnerships with other organizations. It’s critical to make sure you’re not duplicating efforts and repeating what other aid organizations are doing.”

by: VERN UYETAKE - Kirk Hale will use the skills he learned in a 30-year career with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue to help displaced citizens in the Philippines.

Yokum said the most difficult aspect of this particular mission was navigating the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines and ensuring that resources made it to everyone in need. A number of small earthquakes have also struck since Yokum arrived, including one that registered 4.8 on the Richter magnitude scale.

“There’s always something happening here,” Yokum said.

Luckily, this isn’t Hale’s first foray into major disaster relief — he volunteered in Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 — and he knows from experience that two weeks is about as much as one team can handle.

“It’s very draining,” Hale said. “You’re roughing it, and in those intense conditions, two weeks takes its toll.”

But Hale also feels obligated to help people who have “lost everything” and views the experience as a way to broaden his global perspective.

“Every trip is a different experience,” Hale said. “I learn something about myself and other people. It’s rewarding in that way.”

In Japan, Hale was deeply moved by the level of gratitude and respect he received while working. The damage from the tsunami and earthquake was so extensive that Hale felt compelled to stay for three full months.

“People are so thankful and so grateful to have someone from another country come in and give them help,” Hale said. “It would bring a tear to your eye.”

Medical Teams International also has volunteers working on the island Guiuan, which is north of Cebu, and in the cities Tanauan and Romas.

To learn more about Medical Teams International and its work in the Philippines, visit


Patrick Malee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 106. Follow him on Twitter, @pmalee_wl

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