FMS staff have worked at many disastersThe federal government has an army of professional responders ready to travel across the country at the drop of a hat to provide assistance in times of dire need. More than 50 of those responders are in Jamestown. A Federal Medical Station has been set up at the Larsen Center on the Jamestown College campus and another is at the University of Mary in Bismarck.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
The federal government has an army of professional responders ready to travel across the country at the drop of a hat to provide assistance in times of dire need. More than 50 of those responders are in Jamestown.
A Federal Medical Station has been set up at the Larsen Center on the Jamestown College campus and another is at the University of Mary in Bismarck.
The 250-bed Jamestown FMS is set up to help hospital evacuees from Fargo and offers acute medical care, said Tom Lawrence, team leader from the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team.
Acute medical care means they will be able to assist people with complicated medical needs, but can also take in evacuees depending on the need in the community, he said.
Lawrence is one of 27 Rhode Island DMAT team members dispatched to offer assistance.
He got an e-mail asking to assemble his team at 10:30 a.m. March 27 and was in Jamestown two days later.
Lawrence said he and his DMAT team plan to stay in Jamestown for as long as necessary.
He doesn’t even ask about potential timetables for a return in disaster situations, he said.
Lawrence, who is an emergency management coordinator in Providence R.I., has been with his DMAT for 13 years and has seen a number of national disasters.
“For the last 10 to 12 years, during any major disaster we are involved,” Lawrence said.
Notable disasters include being at the ground zero the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and moving from Alabama to Mississippi, to Baton Rouge, La., to the Superdome in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, he said.
“The people who were there weren’t so much black, white, red, yellow, they were poor … they didn’t have the resources to evacuate. They were universally polite and needing help,” Lawrence said.
He recalls one woman at the Superdome in a lawn chair holding a small baby. There was no running water, the only food was Meals Ready to Eat, and the place smelt of feces, Lawrence said.
The woman was holding her child, along with everything she owned in two plastic bags, and still had a big smile because of the help she received, he said.
But Lawrence isn’t running the show in Jamestown by himself. He is one of three in a unified command.
Each group assisting in Jamestown has a member who shares responsibility in the decisions made regarding the FMS, Lawrence said.
DMAT is working with Veterans Affairs, as well as North Dakota Department of Health at the Federal Medical Station in Jamestown.
Twenty-four VA workers from across the country came to Jamestown to offer assistance.
Randall Ricketts, regional emergency manager from the Emergency Management Strategic Health Care Group, part of the VA, came from Boston to help.
“Part of our role is helping people on the ground,” Ricketts said.
He is also keeping an eye on and making sure the VA staff is being taken care of, he said.
“It’s important because we have a sense of duty and responsibility to help, to serve the veteran and the community,” Ricketts said.
He has also been to hurricane-plagued states and recalls a special memory during Katrina.
A little red-haired child walked out from the water wearing a pair of shorts and mosquito bites, and saluted the responders who were helping, Ricketts said.
While Lawrence and Ricketts have seen plenty of disasters, the third member of the unified command has not.
Marcie Bata, South East Central Region emergency prepared response coordinator, North Dakota Department of Health, is a recent Valley City (N.D.) State University graduate.
She has only been on the job nine months, but is hitting the ground running, she said.
“When this job came up it was the best opportunity I could ask for … the more I learn the more I love it. Its not sitting behind a desk, you know your community,” Bata said.
She is currently assisting the DMAT and VA if they have any needs, as well as reporting the center’s status back to the state Health Department, she said.
“It’s all about being prepared and proactive, we are here if they need us,” Bata said.
Registered nurse Jonna Brenton, a VA employee from outside of Helena Mont., was asked to come to Jamestown because of her previous experience with Hurricane Ike.
Brenton said she does what is asked of her, inside the scope of her professional practice.
“Because we are part of the federal government, its part of our duty to respond to citizens in the United Sates,” Brenton said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at email@example.com