DMAT emergency volunteers standing by, cheerfully
The Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or DMAT as they are more commonly known, came ashore the evening before July Fourth to help Block Island emergency staff with medical rescue and assistance during the holiday. They brought equipment to set up a field hospital, a trailer for a beachside first-aid station, and well-trained, compassionate personnel.
They were, in a word, impressive.
DMAT is a volunteer, non-profit organization that supplements local emergency medical personnel in Rhode Island. If a disaster hits a community, they are available. And, they also go to communities holding events with large numbers of people. On July Fourth, they had a team in Bristol for that parade as well as a team on Block Island.
This island’s own volunteer rescue squad and medical personnel have been stretched and strained in recent years to care for all of the injured and ill during the holiday celebration, so DMAT received a warm welcome here.
The Block Island Times was invited to tour the field hospital the group set up in the Block Island School the morning of the Fourth, as well as the first-aid trailer they parked at the beach. Dr. Janice Miller, Medical Director of the B.I. Medical Center, and Bryan Wilson, B.I. Rescue Squad captain, were in conference with members of the DMAT group when I arrived at the school. The relief on the faces of our Rescue Squad personnel and the smile on Dr. Miller’s face as they reviewed the “field hospital” said it all. A day of dread had been turned into a day in which there were enough personnel and adequate facilities to care for the unexpected, including large numbers of patients.
“This is a home run,” Wilson said.
As he showed me around, Brooke Lawrence, Chief of Operations and Mission Leader for DMAT, said the field hospital was the equivalent of a city emergency room. Seventeen black stretchers spread across the school cafeteria and medical equipment along the walls did indeed make the cafeteria look like a city emergency room.
After the school tour, I headed down to Corn Neck Road where the first-aid trailer was set up in the Solviken parking lot. Mike DeRosa, logistics chief for DMAT, was on duty there. He described his job as being in charge of everything from tents to Band-aids. “If anything breaks,” he explained, “they say, ‘Mike can fix it.’”
There weren’t any patients to take care of while I visited, so DeRosa showed me the supplies inside the trailer. He pointed out the clear plastic containers on the wall, containers with Band-aids, with super sponges, with splints, with Ambu bags, with nebulizers and other first-aid supplies. The trailer also held portable ventilators powered by the generator that hummed in the background and medicine boxes with medications, such as epinephrine, 15 sets of it. There even were supplies of over-the-counter medicines. Two mesh cots were open and ready for patients; canvas folding cots were stored until needed and could be placed in the shade of the trailer’s awning.
As happy as our rescue squad was to have DMAT, DeRosa said he was just as happy to be here. “The people have been fantastic here,” he said, and though DMAT was welcomed recently in another Rhode Island community, DeRosa declared, “They were nowhere near as friendly as you are.” One thing he really liked was Carole Payne’s doughnuts. “I like the coffee, too” he added.
I checked back again at the trailer over the next few hours, but, in a welcome change from last year, there were no medical emergencies brought there during or immediately after the parade.
Even without major emergencies, Lawrence told me, this experience could be used as a training session for a hurricane or other island disaster. Wilson was in agreement, saying that his squad got to see what DMAT could do and they got to see where and how to set up when needed here.
The Rhode Island DMAT is a 501c charitable organization using volunteer manpower. They maintain an 8,000 square-foot warehouse for equipment and supplies. During the H1N1 influenza scare, 749 of their volunteers inoculated Rhode Island school children, giving 20,000 hours of their time. Rhode Island had the largest percentage of children vaccinated in the United States.
Next week, 12 of their members will travel to Haiti to a small village to volunteer with hands-on health care and health teaching.
The DMAT is always looking for volunteers, Lawrence said. Their website www.ridmat.org gives more information about the group and their services.