By Katie Gagliano
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
LAFAYETTE, La. — As Hurricane Dorian continues to strengthen while approaching the southeastern United States, line crews and emergency medical personnel from Acadiana are gearing up to assist Floridians.
Two groups of EMS personnel from Acadian Ambulance have already been deployed to the Tallahassee area to help evacuate patients from hospitals and nursing homes, Randall Mann, vice president of marketing and public relations, said. Altogether, the company has sent 60 EMTs and 30 ambulances to assist in evacuations.
The crews are coming from Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana, including teams from Lafayette and Alexandria. Mann said the company pulls from all its service areas to avoid tapping too many resources from one area. The objective is to assist while still protecting the communities Acadian Ambulance serves, he said.
The first crew departed about 7 a.m. Friday and the second was slated to head east Saturday morning, Mann said. Having the crews in place ahead of Dorian’s landfall is critical to swiftly and safely evacuating patients.
“We saw what happened in Katrina when the patients weren’t evacuated ahead of time. The lesson was learned that we need to get these patients out of harm’s way as much as possible,” Mann said.
It can take hours to get patients to an area safe from flooding and power outage risks, he said. For example, you can typically fit two patients per ambulance. If there is a nursing home that needs to evacuate 100 residents, that’s still 50 ambulances or 50 trips for that one facility, he said.
“Even the best-equipped EMS providers don’t have the equipment to handle a situation this size,” Mann said.
Acadian Ambulance estimates its crews will be in Florida for at least a week and a half. While assisting after Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle last year, teams were there for five to six weeks because severely damaged hospitals required assistance with transportation for standard treatments, Mann said
If that happens again, he said, the Acadian Ambulance crews will be relieved with fresh teams at least once, possibly twice. The company also expects to send more teams to the region in the coming days once they’re activated by the FEMA response network.
Medical personnel aren’t the only ones needed to prepare for and recover after the storm. Lafayette Utilities System is also sending a crew of 16 linemen and approximately 13 vehicles to the Tallahassee area to assist with priority power restoration to hospitals, key businesses and other areas, LUS public information specialist Alex Antonowitsch said.
LUS is one of over 60 public utilities from around the country sending crews to help, he said.
The teams are being deployed as part of a mutual aid agreement with other member companies of the American Public Power Association. Through the agreement, members request help from other members to assist in coordinated disaster response when the local response team is overwhelmed.
Last year, LUS crews spent two weeks working in Tallahassee after Hurricane Michael struck the region. They also worked in North Carolina. In 2012, crews went to New York to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Last month, crews from Tallahassee and Gainesville assisted in Lafayette after Hurricane Barry.
For Barry, roughly 110 workers were called in to assist with recovery and restoring power through mutual aid and additional contracts. You can imagine the sheer number of people needed to restore power after a stronger storm, Antonowitsch said.
“In events like this, the linemen are kind of like first responders. People are leaving a storm but we’re hunkering down and waiting for it,” he said.
The American Public Power Association, member utilities and the Department of Energy have morning calls to determine where to distribute relief teams, Antonowitsch said. While the LUS crews will start in Tallahassee, they may be moved as needed as the storm’s path changes.
LUS expects their crews to be in Florida for about two weeks, he said. The workers are slated to leave about 3 a.m. Tuesday. A Saturday departure was originally planned, but the group is adjusting as the storm’s path and timeline shifts.
Antonowitsch said the LUS crews are happy to lend a hand to their Floridian counterparts. The linemen have built camaraderie after working with one another for years, and everyone knows the impact storms can have on a community.
“Even though they live far away they’re like friends and neighbors,” he said.
©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.