'Every bit of it is destroyed': Local paramedics help after Michael

Becky Campbell • Oct 12, 2018 at 11:57 PM

Local paramedics who responded as part of a Strike Team to assist Florida officials during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew are working long hours with little sleep and finding that hot meals are hard to come by in the disaster zone.

The contingency of Tennessee EMS units that responded are from three Strike Team zones — Strike Team One is from Upper East Tennessee, Strike Team Two from the Sevierville area and another team from Madison County — have been transporting patients from damaged facilities to areas farther from the areas hit by the hurricane.

Washington County/Johnson City EMS Paramedic Brandon Archer and Logun Shell were on their way Friday to a nursing home in Callaway, Florida, to move patients to another location. Archer said the nursing home wasn’t damaged, but the town’s main waterline broke, so there was no water service.

Who Responded

More than a dozen ambulances and crew members left Tennessee Wednesday headed south to Alabama on a deployment mission as Hurricane Michael barreled toward the Gulf Coast.

Five of those ambulances were from East Tennessee’s Region One Strike Team, including two vehicles and four medics from the Washington County/Johnson City EMS. On this deployment, ambulances from three agencies — Sullivan, Washington and Greene — were dispatched.

First Stop, First Mission

In a phone call Friday, Archer detailed some of what the Strike Teams had been working on. The team’s first stop was Troy, Alabama, where they got some rest before being dispatched on their first mission.

“When we left Troy, we were going to Panama City to evacuate a hospital there,” Archer said. “We got a phone call to tell us we couldn’t get through, because the roads were blocked, so they us sent to Marianna, Florida, to Jackson Memorial Hospital. We went from Dothan (Alabama) into Marianna and a five-mile stretch of road took us five hours. We probably cut at least 30 trees, if not more.”

As they were clearing trees, “there was a guy trying to get to his house and he helped us. He had a skid steer, and that saved us a lot of time.”

Archer said the team was unable to reach the hospital that night, so they set up for the night in the parking lot of a Ford dealership. The weather was clear by then, so they slept outside. By the next morning, the locals had gotten a path cleared to the hospital, so Archer and the other Tennessee responders were able to get through and transport patients further inland.

“The hospital had a little damage on the roof, but the main problem was they had a main water line break and there was no water. They had 34 patients that needed transport. Region One (strike team)  transported 14 patients to Gainesville,” he said. What would normally be a five-hour drive took more like nine to 10 hours because of traffic and downed trees.

After leaving Gainesville, Archer said a local fire department let them use the firehall for showers and also got a nearby restaurant to bring in food for the team. Afterward, the Tennessee group went to Tallahassee for rest and to await their next run. Most of their meals are MREs — Meals Ready to Eat — and snacks from gas stations where they get fuel.

Friday’s Work

“We are just getting into Callaway ... every bit of it is destroyed,” Archer said in a phone call Friday morning. “We went through a 10- to-15-mile stretch that was a heavily wooded area and 90 percent of the trees were broken in half ... probably about 20 foot of stump left.”

As Archer’s partner, Logun Shell, drove down the road, Archer described things he saw, including a school with the roof partially missing, people wandering around surveying the damage and plenty of debris in the road.

“Most of the people we’ve encountered have been really thankful and appreciative of us for coming down,” Archer said. As far as the team, he said “everybody’s doing well. We’d all like more sleep, but we know we’ve got a job to do.”