Fire fighters deployed to hurricane territory

By Ryn Garguilnski

Logan’s Rex Stall and Brenda Rivale are going on a business trip. Instead of a briefcase and palm pilot, however, they’re packing sleeping bags and flashlights.

The firefighters are being deployed to an unknown location ravaged by Hurricane Katrina after answering a call from the Federal Emergency Management Association on the Internet.
Stall, Logan’s fire chief, said their first stop is Atlanta, where they arrived Wednesday. There they will be trained, review the nationally recognized incident command system protocol and told where they’ll end up next.

He said they plan to spend at least 14 days on the mission, mostly helping victims find assistance.

“I sent the application in Sept. 2,” Stall said, “and by the time they approved it, it was less than 48 hours. I think that’s very impressive.”

Stall said FEMA had a call out for 1,000 two-man teams and, when speaking with a FEMA operator, found out the response has been overwhelming.

“He said he had to get off the phone because he had 20,000 other firefighters he needed to contact,” Stall said.
Stall said he did not think twice about responding to the call to action and Rivale was equally enthusiastic when he asked her to come along.

“She said ‘absolutely,’” Stall said, “there was no hesitation.”
Stall said their pre-trip paperwork consisted of about 50 pages of information on what to watch out for.

“Everything from snakes and insects to personal protection,” Stall said, “and precautions taken for disease control. A big issue on the news has been the spread of cholera and disease outbreaks. As firefighters, most of us have received vaccinations for a large number of things we come in contact with.”

Not only do they need to make arrangements for things they’ll encounter while away, Stall said, but someone’s got to man the homefront.

“Our coworkers are going to have to pick up the slack,” Stall said, adding he works as a Ute Lake State Park technician while Rivale is a business owner and operator.

“This disaster gets us going and helping people while others are helping at the local level (in New Mexico). This goes down quite a bit deeper than just us going to help; it plays a role in a lot of people’s actions. A lot more people are helping than you can imagine.

“I’m just glad we have a chance to go up and try to help,” Stall said, adding he is excited about the venture. “I think it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry also said the call for help came to Tucumcari from the State Emergency Management Office, an arm of FEMA, but no one was able to respond.

“We took a survey last week,” Cherry said, “and nobody was available to go. Everyone wants to help and do what we can right now but all our firefighters are volunteers and it’s the busy time of the year for them.”

Cherry added the state also asked for help from local firefighters and EMTs with evacuees that were expected to need treatment and shelter in the Quay County area. He said many agreed to assist but their help was not needed as there were far less evacuees than expected.

Officials said the entire Tucumcari unit of the National Guard has been sent to assist.

VOLUNTEERS WANTED

Who: Doctors, nurse practitioners/physician’s assistants, registered nurses, EMTs, respiratory therapists
Why: To help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort
How: Register with New Mexico Department of Health
Phone: 467-7701
Fax: 467-7810
Online: www.health.state.nm.uskatrina

Once registered, the state’s Office of Health Emergency Management will call when volunteers are most needed.

Source: New Mexico Department of Health