Hurricane Wilma Victims Needed Help

Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2005

No rest for the weary. As the effects of Hurricane Wilma were being felt in South Florida, FL-3 received orders to deploy once again. This time to the North Miami area that had been hardest hit by the ravages of the storm. Despite having just returned from the Houston deployment a few weeks previously, the team was fully mustered at Northside Hospital and ready to move. When the marching orders came, the convoy headed for the staging area in Orlando. Once in Orlando, the team was briefed and tasked to a hospital in Pembroke Pines Florida that had been overwhelmed by patients following the storm. Once again FL-3 was on the road to the site of a disaster and arrived at Pembroke Pines in the early evening.

The team worked through the night to set up the BOO just outside the hospitals’ Emergency Room and were already seeing and treating patients at first light. Logistics, administration and medical worked tirelessly to refine the set-up and integrate the systems. Once again, FL-3 worked 24/7 and cared for hundreds of patients who would have had no other medical care available to them.

The days passed very quickly and when the number of patients started to diminish and the hospitals ability to handle the flow improved, it was time to pack up. The BOO came down at the conclusion of the last day as nightfall approached. The weary team stowed their gear in the vans and returned home with a feeling of accomplishment in another mission well done.

Related link(s):
  • Medical teams camp out at hospitals -
  • Top


    Hurricane Rita

    Published: Monday, October 10, 2005

    A few days after FL-3 team members returned home from Hurricane Katrina, a threat by the name of Hurricane Rita started churning up the Gulf. Despite the short time at home, FL-3 answered the call from Washington and fielded a complete roster of dedicated members to help with NDMS and Homeland Security disaster efforts.

    While the storm was closing in on the Texas-Louisiana border, the Federal Government’s travel agency booked emergency reservations on Continental Airlines. The team was quickly assembled within hours of notification, boarded the commercial aircraft and headed for Houston, Texas . . . a city in the last stages of evacuation and all but vacated. Meanwhile our very practiced Logistics Team loaded the trucks carrying the unit’s cache of medical supplies and equipment and was on the road to Houston. The next day found the unit at a hotel in downtown Houston where the MST (mission support team) had set up an improvised headquarters. The stalwart truck drivers had made the long journey and bedded down the trucks in a secure location on the outskirts of Houston.

    Houston was mostly evacuated and storm was still offshore when the team was moved to more secure quarters in the VA Hospital. DMAT units from around the country helped to convert a series of connected waiting rooms into a mass dormitory. The rooms had no outside windows and the VA Hospital was on high ground and rated to take hurricane winds. The idea was for the team to keep their heads down, wait for the storm to pass over the top, then pop up and go to work. But Mother Nature had other ideas. Just before landfall, the storm turned northeast and focused on the Biloxi area, eventually sparing most of Houston from the full effects of the storm. Those that slept that night awoke to a less damaged scene than had been imagined.

    A mission finally came for FL-3 and the unit was dispatched to Memorial Herman southeast Hospital in suburban Houston. Since the evacuation of Huston, the hospital was understaffed and anticipating an influx of patients from the more devastated areas. Immediately upon arrival at the hospital, FL-3 and TX-4 teamed up and transformed an outside hospital pavilion into a fully operational triage area. Working with hospital personnel, equipment and supplies flowed into the area, making it ready to support 24/7 triage activities. Simultaneously, a large portion of the hospital parking lot was commandeered and turned into a helicopter-landing zone capable of landing two Blackhawk helicopters at the same time. Once again, the Team’s experience in New Orleans and the past 7 years of training with the 622ndAES units at Mac Dill AFB, and the U.S. Coast Guard at the Clearwater Air Station really paid off.

    Hospital personnel were quick studies. They were briefed on safe loading and unloading procedures, quick triage techniques and patient disposition. The process went smoothly and even hospital paperwork was quickly integrated. When the birds started to come in, FL-3, TX-4 and hospital personnel from the maintainence crew to the hospital administrator were ready. C. David Huffstutler the hospital CEO and Trudi Stafford the CNO were often seen on the flight line and commended FL-3 on the professional manner in which the process was being handled.

    When patient flow subsided in the next few days, FL-3 returned to the MST hotel to await a further assignment. Nobody on the team likes “down time”. So, the team made productive use of the time by doing a complete inventory of the unit’s cache of materials and equipment. It was a day well spent. Every item was removed from the trucks, opened and counted. All inventory discrepancies were noted and missing items can now be ordered and restocked. It was a long overdue process made impractical by limited warehouse space. With everything counted, the trucks were repacked and ready.

    Unfortunately the next assignment never came, and the team was demobilized to come home. Most of the team flew home on Continental Airlines and received a hero’s ovation and applause from the crew and civilian passengers. A TV news crew met the tired, but very proud team members at the gate and filmed them returning home. A FL-3 Strike Team remained in Texas to provide intelligence on outlying areas that might need DMAT intervention. They conducted two very successful forays into badly damaged areas in Northeast Texas and carried the FL-3 colors proudly and with distinction. The unsung truck drivers brought the cache home to the VA warehouse . . . and thus ended the Hurricane Rita experience.



    Out The Door Again

    FL-3 Deploys to New Orleans in support of Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Efforts

    Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Thirty-six members of FL-3 responded to the urgent call from Washington and deployed in full strength to help the people who were turned into refugees by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Both medical and non-medical DMAT members were drawn together for that single purpose. The team responded more quickly than ever before and was assembled at Northside Hospital within two hours of getting the call to mobilize. With a police escort and lights flashing the FL-3 convoy was on the highway, headed for the state capitol Tallahassee.

    We arrived at a Red Cross shelter in Tallahassee, tired from the long drive, but ready and eager to get to work. After a much need ed rest, FL-3 physicians saw some of the patients who had taken refuge in the shelter the refugees at this shelter had heeded the warnings and had the foresight to evacuate ahead of the devastation. As we waited for orders, two trucks carrying additional equipment and supplies arrived. They were our critical care supplies and Pharmacy Cache sent to us in FedEx emergency trucks. So the physical labor of offloading and reloading the trucks made the waiting a little easier. All the team members would agree that waiting is the hardest part of any assignment. NDMS also linked us to a flatbed semi carrying our power generator and AC units. With these additions, we were truly a formidable highway convoy. None-the-less, patience was running thin when the order to move came down. Thankfully, the team packed up and got on the road once again. This time the destination was Baton Rouge.

    Main roads were not open. So, the team had to skirt Mobile and New Orleans on back roads to get there. Truckers and the CB radio was a real asset in navigating the route to Baton Rouge. When the team finally got there, no one was prepared for the sight of thousands upon thousands of refugees, all requiring some form of help. They were crowed into the two amphitheaters at the LSU campus. The sights and smells were overpowering, even to the most seasoned team members. The magnitude was staggering. But, miraculously there was a semblance of order and people who needed care were getting it from a host of caregiver volunteers from the university, the public health service and the Baton Rouge community. DMAT units, including FL-3 were being staged here for deployment to more forward areas of the disaster. Hurry up and wait . . . perhaps the theme song of any large-scale operation, was hard to swallow for FL-3 members eager to pitch in and help. Finally we got our orders to proceed to the New Orleans International Airport and operate the care facility that had just been set up by other DMAT teams.

    Once again we weren’t totally prepared for the scope and magnitude of the disaster as it affected this group of survivors. When FL-3 started to take the reins of the operation, there was no flight line triage. As a result, two layers of airport concourses were clogged with thousands of refugees. People needing care were mixed in with those simply needing transport out. These people were sleeping on concrete floors, on luggage carousels, in chairs, in telephone booths, everywhere there was space.

    Some team members worked on the flight line to do an immediate START triage as the refugees streamed in. It’s hard to imagine 3 lines of military and civilian helicopters, 10-12 deep, landing to unload their cargo of refugees, patients, pets and deceased. Just as demanding, flight line team members lifted off three helicopters simultaneously every three and a half minutes in the first few days.. Other team members worked their way through the crowed to segregate the sick and injured from the other refugees. The past 7 years of training with the 622nd AES units at MacDill AFB and the U.S. Coast Guard at the Clearwater Air Station really paid off big time. Later in the disaster a strike force assembled by FL-3 flew a survivor reconnaissance mission in the Blackhawk helicopters and brought hope to a medical unit and 24 survivors who had previously been isolated.

    Still other members worked a triage point and staffed the red tent (trauma/ ICU), the yellow tent (intermediate care) and the green tent (immediate care). Team members worked side by side with other DMAT teams, members of all the armed forces, public health officers, ambulance services, flight crews and local volunteers. There was no dissention. Everyone, regardless of rank or title, pitched in to get the job done. At one point 60 ambulances and 40 busses were lined up to unload huge numbers of refugees and patients. The airport was crammed full of people wall to wall.

    So FL-3 went to work to help bring a measure of order in an effort to save and help as many as possible. Team members birthed babies, treated wounds from snakebite to gunshots, handled stroke/cardiac emergencies, and just about anything else a hospital handles on a routine basis. But there was nothing routine about the enormity of the patient needs. Every team member worked between 12 and 16-hour days. They slept on the hard concrete, mostly in the same clothes they worked in. They started out eating MREs and graduated to hot meals provided by the National Forestry Service. After about four days they were able to get a shower. Several members of the team were tasked to the MST (Mission Support Team), which was the nerve center of the medical operation and tackled some of the more difficult problems, like communication, patient transport and supply allocation.

    In this highly charged environment where productive work was a constant, the time flew by and suddenly it was time for FL-3 to demobilize. The job wasn’t completely over and perhaps it won’t really be over for months to come. But FL-3 team members truly made a difference in the lives of many hundreds of people. These refugees had lost everything. Their homes were gone. Their cars were gone. Their jobs were gone. They escaped with the clothes on their backs and little else. So the ones among them that were sick or hurt were the neediest of any patients the team had ever cared for. But FL3 did make a hundred fold difference and it felt good.

    The team rolled toward home, driving through the night, and arrived at 7A.M. at Northside Hospital where it all started. The group dispersed rather quickly to the promise of a home cooked meal, a real hot shower and a long sleep, uninterrupted by the sounds of landing helicopters and C-130s.

    To see more pictures, please click here.



    Elements of FL-3 Deploy for Hurricane Dennis

    Published: Friday, July 15, 2005

    Elements of FL-3 answered the call to serve in various capacities before, during and after the most powerful July hurricane (Dennis) to hit landfall in recorded history. Kate Vaughn and Robin Minske acted as Administrative officers handled the initial call down and all subsequent alerts. They also provided a vital information link and the much needed coordination between all the mission participants. Deputy Commander Norm Wrona was stationed in Washington, DC and later in the event was moved to the MST in Mississippi. Ron Wegner and Deputy Commander/ Operations Officer Dan Johnson provided the FEMA Emergency Operations Command with essential strategic information before the storm hit and evaluated the critical care needs of hospitals affected by the storm in Florida and Alabama. They acted as part of the FEMA Rapid Needs Assessment Team.

    Team members responded enthusiastically to the call down and, in the finest tradition of FL-3, we had a full roster and were ready to deploy on a two hour notice.

    Even before the storm approached the Tampa Bay area, Logistics officer Scott Kirley was drawing the cache of supplies together, charging batteries, checking inventories, fueling trucks and making sure our materials and equipment were ready for deployment. When the word came that we were to position our cache for possible use in this emergency, a strike team, headed by Kevin Walker, was immediately formed. Saturday, while the storm was raging in the Gulf off Clearwater beach, Kevin Walker, Juan Ortega, Lyle Fuller, Adam Karsin, John Crowley and Bob Sabel were rolling down Interstate 75 in a van and our three trucks. They raced the storm all night to the Alabama border and safely delivered the cache to the staging area at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. Despite the intense weather conditions, FL-3 was the first unit to reach Ft. Rucker. The strike group stayed on deployment, assisting with logistics as other DMAT and FEMA elements arrived. Team members were demobilized and arrived home late Tuesday night, thankful that the storms magnitude had not caused more serious injury to life and limb. To see more pictures, please click here.



    FL-3 Team Members Participated in the NDMS Conference

    Published: Saturday, May 7, 2005

    FL-3 had a great turnout of team members for the 2005 NDMS Conference which was held in Orlando Florida this year. Diane Speranza, Chief Nurse, was presented with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her contributions since the inception of the team. Diane proudly walked across the stage and received her award from the Chief of NDMS and dignitaries from FEMA and Homeland Security.

    Over 20 FL-3 team members participated in the conference and attended the many workshops that ranged from Advanced Disaster Medical Response to the basics of Incident Command. Key topics such as clinical care, disaster research, health systems, disaster management, mass fatality response, patient movement, public health, and many other issues were discussed by expert speakers from governmental agencies, the private sector and involved academic entities. All FL-3 participants were excited and charged to return and continue the ongoing work of building and applying lessons learned to the next year of FL-3's movement and involvement in the future of NDMS, FEMA and Homeland Security.

    If you missed this convention start planning for next year in Anaheim Calif. To see more pictures of this event please click here



    Mac Dill AFB Air Show 2005

    Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2005

    Hours before the strains of the Star Spangled Banner were heard over MacDill Air Force Base, members of FL3-DMAT were on base and checking medical equipment for the Air Show. Team members of FL 3 manned four specially prepared Kubota's and Kawasaki ATV's, which provided ACLS care for the two-day event that drew a huge crowd, said to be in the thousands. While the Thunderbirds roared overhead, FL 3 members navigated the dense crowed that only the "ATV's" could penetrate. Working with Air Force Medics, our ACLS equipped units responded to patients across the length and breadth of the airport complex. An ambulance and two helicopters were kept on hand to transport patients requiring advanced hospital care. Our operations, logistics and communications personnel kept management of the operation flowing smoothly, providing equipment with the ATV's and maintaining the vital communication between all care givers.

    The base hospital unit provided basic patient care and set up an excellent aid station for blisters, sunburn and heat related problems. But DMAT members were responsible for the advanced medical care of all patients who required it. The MacDill Airshow was an excellent training opportunity for FL 3 and provided a much needed service to this important community venue.



    Disaster Readiness Doesn’t Just “Happen”. . .

    Published: Tuesday, April 5, 2005

    On April 1, 2 and 3, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical specialists, supported by a cadre of communications, logistics and administrative personnel transformed a quiet corner of the St Petersburg/Clearwater airport into a compact tent city capable of handling a mass casualty incident. FL-3 DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) was the lead Federal agency responsible for coordinating a three day series of activities for this major disaster exercise.

    Named Operation Southern Wings it incorporated elements of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Veterans Administration, Law enforcement, Fire/Rescue/HAZMAT, FEMA, and Homeland Security. Civilian agencies, including the St Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Authority the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army Disaster units were also deeply involved. Two large magnitude and dramatic disaster exercises were played out, one on Saturday morning and one Saturday night.

    The National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) , through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), fosters the development of Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) throughout the country. A DMAT is a professional group that becomes Federal employees when deployed in a National emergency. FL-3 DMAT was established in Tampa Bay in 1993 and its mandate has always been one of training for a mass casualty event that we all hope never comes. Extensive training includes dealing with all hazards, from terrorism to hurricanes, from flu outbreaks to airplane crashes.

    Operation Southern Wings was designed to provide training and hands-on practice that involved a combination of didactic and demonstration intended to stretch the human and equipment resources of all the agencies that would normally respond to local and National catastrophes. While DMAT teams are at the forefront of these activities, they must work in concert with all of the other agencies to accomplish the overall mission. Among other things, this exercise served to foster the inter-agency relationships that must exist in times of crisis.

    The Core Planning group for this event included:

    In addition, the exercise provided a much-needed “proving ground” for new and innovative medical equipment being developed by Masimo, Airgas, Mercury Medical, and Impact Instrumentation, Inc.

    Invited spectators and guests sat on bleachers in the middle of the “action” as the National HAZMAT/DECON Team from the Veterans Administration demonstrated decontamination procedures on both humans and search and rescue dogs. Members of the University of South Florida Center for Biological Defense handled expert commentary. Volunteer “victims” were decontaminated and carried by stretcher to the DMAT treatment tents where the medical specialists of the DMAT units worked to stabilize the “patients” and prepare them for possible air transport or evacuation to a hospital or definitive care area that was untouched by the incident.

    At this point all DMAT personnel received additional training in proper stretcher handling and loading of “patients” into Coast Guard C-130s and H60 Sea Stallion Rotorcraft. Bayflight helicopters demonstrated correct patient loading techniques and explained how patients would be transported to such hospitals as Bayfront, StJosephs and Northside. Search and rescue dogs were taken aloft to test their reflexes to helicopter noise, vibration, and motion.

    During the course of the evening exercise, immediate response teams and equipment from the Airport Fire Department responded to a declared emergency and crash of an aircraft on Runway 27. Approximately 63 passengers and crew sustained some form of “injury” as a result of the smoke fumes, “crash”. and fuel spill. The standard package of support agencies were contacted per the airport protocol and responded to the scene to contain the fire and rescue the “victims”. The passengers were triaged on the scene and, in a real world situation, would be decontaminated and transported to hospitals via ambulances. In order to test the reflexes of the DMAT teams, “victims” who were TRIAGed and requiried critical care were taken by ambulance to the DMAT tents. At the same time a busload of about 60 “patients” swarmed the DMAT setup and seemingly overwhelmed the capacity to triage the “walking wounded” and separate them from those requiring more lifesaving care. Thanks to the recent experience gleaned from hurricanes Charlie and Ivan the DMAT paramedics and nurses employed rapid field TRIAGE techniques and the strain on the facilities was not entirely alleviated, but substantially reduced. When we push on our limitations, we learn, and in this scenario we learned a lot.

    Disaster Readiness doesn’t just “happen”. It comes about through hard work and the determination to keep testing the limitations of the system. As a result of this exercise, DMAT members are better equipped to respond to real world disasters. They sharpened some of their medical skills, but they also learned to function better in the inter-agency mix that responds to catastrophic incidents. Within the unit, DMAT administration, logistics, communications and training played an indispensable role in the success of this mission.

    Agencies like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross that don’t seek the spotlight, but work tirelessly in the background to support disaster readiness, also played a major part in the successful outcome of this major event. History has taught us that when disaster strikes, you won’t find these agencies far behind.

    Individuals interested in working with FL3-DMAT in any capacity are encouraged to contact them through their website at: To see pictures of this event, please click here.



    FL-3 DMAT Represented at Inauguration

    (Click Picture)

    Acting Team Commander Norm Wrona, seen here in Washington's 19 degree weather, was assigned to Medical Strike Team Bravo which covered the 2005 Presidential Inauguration in the event of a medical emergency during the ceremonies.

    This signaled yet another major national assignment in which FL-3 team members were chosen to participate.


    About us | Contact us | Copyright © 2005 West Central Florida Disaster Services, Inc.
    !--Top Drop Down Menu News HTML-->