Local medics respond to hurricane evacuation, rescue

Becky Campbell • Updated Sep 11, 2017 at 6:13 PM

Six Washington County/Johnson City EMS medics are in Florida helping with evacuation and rescue efforts after a powerful hurricane gripped the state and ravaged it with wind and rain.

As of Monday morning, four of those medics — advanced EMT Jeff Weems, paramedic Brandon Archer, paramedic Logun Shell and advanced EMT John Manukyan — were in Tallahassee awaiting further deployment orders after spending the weekend evacuating patients from a Tampa-area hospital to one further inland, where there was a lesser threat of flooding.

Archer, team leader for the Washington County contingent, said the group is part of the Tennessee’s Region One Ambulance Strike Team 1. Other counties on Team 1 include Sullivan County EMS, which sent two advanced lifesaving ambulances and one support unit, and Greene County, which sent one ALS truck. In addition to its four members, Washington County sent two ALS trucks.

Two other Washington County medics are also in Florida as part of a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The two were originally dispatched to Texas to assist in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey, then as they were preparing to return to East Tennessee, they were rerouted to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma relief efforts. Those two, paramedic Bob Watson and paramedic Laura Fine, were near Orlando, Archer said.

In a phone interview Monday morning, Archer said Strike Team 1 had transported about 20 patients from a rehabilitative hospital to a safer location. After the run, the team hunkered down at a church near Tampa, then returned to Tallahassee the next day. When the wind became too dangerous for emergency crews to conduct evacuations, the Strike Team was on standby.

“Right now we’re in Tallahassee,” Archer said Monday morning. “They're expecting gusts around 90 mph today, so all operations have ceased until the wind has dropped to 45 to 50 mph.”

By around 2:30 p.m., Archer and the team had orders to head to Jacksonville to assist with flooding rescues, he said on his Facebook page.

Back home, EMS Lt. Billy Collins and Maj. Mike Cooke said lending a helping hand to those in need is part of the EMS mission. Collins is the local Strike Team coordinator and helped plan the deployment.

Archer said he expects the deployment will last about 14 days.


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