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Friday, September 26, 2008

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

My favorite time of year has OFFICIALLY arrived!

Clarksville New Hampshire

I do not mark autumn by a date on the calendar, but by the colors of the leaves. Right now I am willing to bet I have the most beautiful commute to work (along with the few others who make the same drive I do). The colors this year are just peaking and appear to be the most vivid in the last five years. So far the colors do not beat out the display of the fall of 2003, but this season is not over and there are still many trees with leaves yet to turn. Right now there are a lot of reds. Reds always come first, and you may even see some reds so dark they look purple. Then follow the oranges. Lastly are the vibrant yellows, which most older maple trees turn. I am waiting for more of the colors to appear.

Lemington Vermont

One of my most favorite things to do is take photos (if you haven't noticed). Yesterday I got to do just that. I ran around the countryside, literally, running through hay fields and meadows, taking photos. It make me feel like a child and forget all my stressors. All afternoon I had nothing but freedom and some of the best scenery on God's green Earth.

Various photos of Spectacle Pond in Island Pond

(ps. please do not steal any of my photos! Ask if you would like to use/have one!)

...breathtaking. How many times can I say... I LoVermont!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh, the Stuff You'll See!

Just driving along, minding my own business, and all of a sudden there are red and white flashing lights coming towards me. A large white box with orange striping is traveling at a fast rate of speed with intent of pushing my vehicle away from the yellow center line. I slow down, pull to the right, and watch the ambulance disappear into my rear view mirror as I head in the direction it came from. As I rounded the next corner I was greeted with a sudden wall of traffic. Everything was at a standstill, but I couldn't see beyond the giant wal-mart truck that was two vehicles in front of me. For several minutes we sat there. Then we were detoured down a side street, crawling along at the speed of smell. I couldn't see anything or hear any commotion or sirens, but I assumed we were being detoured around some emergency scene. A little while later we rounded the corner of a side street and behind a house an accident scene appeared. There were spectators lining the side walk and emergency vehicles across the road. In the middle of it all was a random pick-up truck overturned.

It was interesting to view a legitimate accident from the point of view of a by stander. Instead of being annoyed by gawkers and rubber neckers I was one of them. I am sure my thought process, however, was slightly different. Instead of wondering what happened, who was involved, and why, I was looking at what the crews were doing and what possible injuries would result from the MOI (mechanism of injury). Most of all I wondered how the heck did they roll over where they were, but seeing as many accidents as I have has taught me that cars and people can do amazing things. Sometimes those amazing things kill them and other times they walk away without a scratch. This time I didn't and wouldn't have the opportunity to know.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fire Department Open House

For the firs time in years the fire department I am on had an Open House/Safety Day. Everyone spent weeks planning it and hours of hard work preparing and setting everything up. There were tons of things to do and see. We pulled out every piece of apparatus and parked it on the front lawn for everyone to look at. They were also all washed and thoroughly cleaned. Then indoors, which looked so big and empty without the vehicles, we set up food and information tables. Our plans for the new addition was there for everyone to view. We are hoping to put an addition on the fire station next year and want the people in town to check out the new floor plan and then vote for the addition in November. There was a ton of food, all of it free. The Rescue squad was there making 9-1-1 signs and checking blood pressures. Outdoors there was a ton of demonstrations. A class on how to use a fire extinguisher properly was used. Then there was a van on hand and many members of the department, including myself, cut it to pieces with the jaws of life. A couple of firefighters also put on wet suits and demonstrated a water rescue with all our equipment in the porta-pond. There was a safety trailer on scene where we brought people through and showed them fire hazards and proper fire safety techniques. At one point I even walked around scaring the crap out of kids as "Flame the Cat." It was a long day full of a lot of hard work, but I was also thoroughly impressed by how much fun it was. Of course I also took a ton of photos...

The Brighton Fire Department Open House Group Photo

And us.

Smokey the Bear and Flame the Cat. I am dressed up as the cat.

Using the Jaws of Life
Even the smaller tool weighs way more than you would think!

Little girl using the fire extinguisher and do an awesome job at it.
Remember P.A.S.S. (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep)

A firefighter exiting the "smoke room"

Father and Daughter looking at the Safety Trailer.

The Rubber Duckies in the Porta-Pond. ...yes they do serve a purpose!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Autumn Already?

As I came back from the deep south I was greeted by my favorite season. Autumn. There is nothing more spectacular than this time of year in Vermont and this is where I begin to look like a glorified "flatlander" as I relish every day the sun grows long and casts those golden rays across the mountains and fields.

The first leaves beginning to turn about a week ago. I can't wait!

We actually had our first frost last week. Its not unusual, but it means that the end of the growing season is near. The fact that my pumpkins are still flowering means that it will probably be a dull Halloween at my house, but good thing I do not get any trick-or-treaters since I live in the middle of nowhere.

I am also preparing to begin my trek into the woods in search of hunting grounds. This will be my first deer season where I am legally allowed to hunt the game and I look forward to the challenge, as well as showing up my significant other and perhaps bagging a wall hanger. There is also the long nights and early mornings spent at hunting camp. As many real Vermonters claim women do not belong at hunting camp and our bad luck, similar as superstition on a pirate ship. I personally find that absurd and intend to spoil their fun by introducing gender variety. Plus, I am great at cards and their games are usually dull.

Ah, Autumn... please stay a while. There is plenty of time for snow and wind later. Plus, I want the colorful leaves to stick around for my wedding day!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Newspaper Article

This was printed in our local paper today highlighting what I went down to do in Mississippi and what our crew is now doing in Texas...

Northeast Kingdom EMTs Help Out As Ike Nears
Jeanne Miles
Staff Writer

Rescue workers from Vermont were hunkered down in Texas Friday afternoon waiting for Hurricane Ike to do its thing.

Crews from CALEX Ambulance and Lyndon Rescue were among those who traveled to Mississippi when Hurricane Gustav threatened Sept. 2, and now they have crews on hand in Texas.

Lyndon Rescue members Brandon Bunnell and Dan Bigelow left Sunday for Mississippi and were then diverted to San Antonio, Texas. They have been helping with evacuations and transferring patients from hospitals and nursing homes to safer quarters.

"We've been running non-stop," Bigelow said by telephone Friday morning. "Lack of sleep has been a problem, but we did get a good's night sleep last night. It's been quite an experience. The people are so nice and appreciative."

They are even more impressed when they find out how far away Vermont is, Bigelow said.

"They were amazed that we had come so far," he said.

CALEX members Deb St. George and Michael Wright left Tuesday. They were among the first troops to arrive this time, Jay Wood, the CALEX director, said Friday.

Wright sent an e-mail message to Wood late Friday morning saying they were heading back from Houston to San Antonio to wait out the storm.

"The traffic is getting worse by the minute," Wright wrote.

Crews from Rutland, Newport, Essex and Vergennes are also in Texas. They are not all working in the same place so frequent conference calls are held to check on everyone and make sure they have what they need. One such call was made Friday morning.

All was well, but Dan Manz, director of Vermont Emergency Management Services told the group that Hurricane Ike was heading farther north than expected and headed for Galveston.

"This storm is half a day away," Manz said at about 9:45. An order was issued for all rescue crews to report to San Antonio by noon. That city is well west of where the storm will hit and will be a good place to stage, he said.

Lyndon Rescue members Jennifer Williams and Ryan Ferris traveled to Mississippi and spent 10 days looking after people in shelters and transferring patients during Hurricane Gustav. Unlike the second crew to head south, Williams and Ferris had to drive the distance from northern Vermont to Mississippi, a trip that took over 24 hours.

"We only stopped for one hour to rest," Williams said.

Some nights they slept in a shelter with evacuees, or they would sleep in the ambulance. It became like a little motor home, Williams said.

"They were the nicest people in the world," Williams said. "Strangers offered us the use of their homes for showers. Southern hospitality really does exist."

Nancy Spencer and Wood were given one hour to pack before they set out for the 27-hour drive to Jackson, Miss. They stayed at Camp Cyclone which was a big, air conditioned tent with showers.

From there, they were sent to Gulf Port where they checked people at a shelter to determine special needs. One person was taken to a hospital with symptoms of a stroke, Spencer said.

During the storm, they stayed in a shelter with older folks, Spencer said. The day after the storm, the two helped the National Guard at the point of distribution, or POD as it is called, handing out ice and bottled water.

"There was constant traffic in and out," Spencer said.

The people were very appreciative, she said.

"It gave me such warm and fuzzy feelings. I'm ready to go again," Spencer said.

This was the first time a crew from CALEX or Lyndon Rescue joined the rescue effort. CALEX was asked during Hurricane Rita, but only had two trucks at the time, Wood, said.

The operation is being paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has a contract with American Medical Response, which coordinated the effort.

Nationwide, 750 ambulances and 1,500 buses were involved, according to Mark Podgwaite, director of operations at Lyndon Rescue.

"It's been a long two weeks," Podgwaite said. "I have them call me every four to six hours. Now it is crunch time."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Disaster Relief Experience

I never realized how much I missed home until I was gone for so long and I never realized how much work I had waiting for me either. The last few days I have been catching up on things both at my job and at home, as well as spending some much needed time with Shawn. Besides returning to normality in my personal life I am still acclimating to my experiences down south, which I have yet to elaborate one, but will try to do so now.

Today I got interviewed for the local paper about my trip down. Most of the questions asked how it felt to be down there, what it was like where we stayed, and how the people were. It should be printed tomorrow or early next week.

I don't look at what I did as so miraculous. There were plenty of other people there just like me, most were a lot more experienced and higher trained/certified. As I mentioned before no one went door to door checking for survivors or paddled a canoe down a flooded street aiding those who were stranded. We were stationed in Jackson Mississippi. Down town at an AMR (American Medical Response--ambulance service) headquarters. About 75 other ambulances were in the parking lot right along side us. We parked there when we were not on a "mission", slept in a tent with 300-400 cots and ate under a tent in a cafeteria like setting. When we weren't asleep we were all in the parking lot of our ambulances hanging out, waiting for an assignment.

There were ambulances there from across the country. Everywhere from California, Vermont, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, Conneticut, and many other states. It was interesting to meet so many different people from across the country. Not only did we have different accents and words for "soda" --some people say "pop" while others say "coke" no matter what type of soda it is. I also learned a lot about different EMS systems and realized how far behind Vermont EMS seems. The trip made me want to move across the country, become a paramedic (as if I am not wanting that bad enough already), and dive into a more progressive service.

So the day after we arrived, also the day the hurricane hit, we were sent on our first "mission". Mission was the term used by the command staff for any assignment they sent us to. We spent the entire day at a way point for evacuees leaving New Orleans and heading to Jackson MS to a shelter. The way point was just a place for them to go to the bathrrom and grab a drink or salvation army served meal (which were excellent! --I got jumbalya for the first time as well as heart burn--ouch!). When we arrived back at headquarters we bunkered down for the arrival of the hurricane. It got a little windy and a lot rainy. When we were assigned to our next assignment we were in the middle of the storm after it made land fall. We were sent to shelter duty. Shelter duty entailed going to a shelter and acting as medical staff and emergency response for anything and everything that happened there. Surprisingly it was not a very busy job. For the most part we stood near our ambulances or wandered around the shelter. At one point, which I will never forget, we were outside wandering around a large parking lot at a stadium that was serving as a shelter when we all of a sudden heard an air siren. Then we heard another and then a third. The air sirens were tornado sirens, warning of an imminent tornado. All of us EMTs stood in the wide open parking lot examing the sky amidst all the sirens for a funnel cloud. We did not see one, but the feeling of imminent danger was creepy and cool all at the same time.

After the bulk of the storm moved we finally started doing other things outside of the Jackson area. We spent a night in an awfully hot and smelly highschool cafeteria that was acting as a shelter, followed by a day at another shelter that was at a church. Both shelters were in Natchez Mississippi, near the river. We were without power our entire stay down there. The most interesting part of working at the shelters were seeing the people. As a natural people watcher I had more to look at and ponder than I ever imagined. The type of people that come to a public disaster shelter are poor. VERY poor. I had never given that thought, but it makes sense. Those people have no means to leave where they live and are forced to go somewhere like a stadium or school gym. They do not own campers and cannot afford hotel stays a thousand miles inland. Some people barely had foorware that qualified as shoes. A lot of them, though, despite how poor they were, had cell phones, PSPs, MP3 players, etc. I was just amazed to look at the conditions these people were subjected to... cramped sleeping quarters next to hundreds of strangers, scheduled meals, no privacy, and no comforts.

That is a photo of the large stadium shelter we went to the day of the hurricane. It is of the main sleeping area where all the cots were. In the far back you can see many people lined up to get a meal which was being served outside of the gym area. At all the shelters I noticed a couple of things... Most of the people (97% or so) were black, there were many young mothers with a large number of children, and a disturbing number of very young and very pregnant girls. The problems of the poor and impoverished followed them even as they fled a hurricane.

The latter part of our stay was "repatriotization" which basically means returning people to whence they came. We took a couple of very long transfers from central and northern Mississippi to the southern and coastal part of the state. Twelve to Seventeen hours in an ambulance and on the road is a long time. Days seemed to never end. Those we took were hospital and nursing home patients that could only be transported by ambualnce. Hundreds of patients like that were transported by the dozens of ambulances at Jackson to their homes/facilities in various parts of Mississippi, Lousianna, and Alabama.

By the end of the week my partner and I were exhausted and mentally drained. We had been working 18-20hr days for the past ten days without a break. When our boss said we were going to switch out crews it was music to our ears. Not only were we leaving, but we also did not have to drive back home, which would be a two day event. We flew out of Jackson Mississippi, had a layover in Charlotte North Caroline, and landed in Manchester around midnight the next day. Home sweet home.

The crew that relieved us are now in San Antonio Texas waiting out Hurrican Ike and preparing to do exactly what we did. It is a great thing that we are able to do for fellow Americans, however I think America will be shocked with the cost for such operations. After Katrina everyone screamed for more preemptive planning and resources, but if they knew how much our facet of emergency response and management cost alone it would make many rethink the effort. I fully understand why disasters like these cost billions of dollars, but I am still going to collect my FEMA paycheck with a smile.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Returned from the Gulf

Well I am back. My ten day journey was interesting, emotional, thought provoking, fun, horrible, and a million other emotions rolled into one. Everything stressed the very being of every person there. Even though the hurricane was not half as bad as anticipated we were still needed and still useful, but not in the ways I expected.

No one went door to door looking for survivors or paddled a canoe down a flooded street. Instead we took the sick and infirm from one hospital to another, spent time at shelters, and camped in a parking lot. It was definitely a unique experience and there is so much to get into.

I will post a more detailed post about it later since I am trying to catch up with everything that I left at the drop of a hat over a week ago... but I just wanted to make sure everyone knew I was back!