Eleven local EMS employees on the ground in Florida

J. H. Osborne • Sep 11, 2017 at 9:18 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Local emergency response personnel have been constantly on the go since deploying last week to Florida to provide help during and after Hurricane Irma, Sullivan County Emergency Medical Service Chief Jim Perry said Monday afternoon.

According to Perry:

• Members of Sullivan County EMS, along with members of the Washington County/Johnson City EMS and Greene County EMS, make up Tennessee’s Region 1 Ambulance Strike Team.

• They headed out of Northeast Tennessee on Friday morning. Their first stop was Chattanooga, where they met up with Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials and four other ambulance strike teams from across the Volunteer State. Next stop: Tallahassee — capital of the Sunshine State — where they arrived about 1 a.m. Saturday. Later that morning they were deployed to St. Petersburg, where they evacuated ventilator patients — until about 3 a.m. Sunday.

• At that point a brief respite as they got a couple of hours of sleep bunking at an EMS station in the area. But then Sunday dawned and it was back to Tallahassee, a trip made slow and difficult by not just the weather but also the scarcity of fuel along their route. Monday morning, they received an alert to be ready for their next assignment and by noon they had been deployed to Jacksonville. They arrived there about 5 p.m. Monday afternoon.

The protocol for this type of mutual aid between states is thanks to a federal law called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). Florida asked other states for help as Irma approached in the middle of last week.

Tennessee organized its EMAC response teams several years ago, Perry said, and emergency response agencies within the eight Northeast Tennessee counties that make up Region 1 agreed to participate. Members of each agency went for specialized training at the Tennessee State Fire Academy. They’ve been put on alert prior to and after prior natural disasters, but this marks the first time the Region 1 Ambulance Strike Team has actually been deployed.

Late last week, TEMA officials said the state’s response teams totaled 151 members and included: a 40-person nurse strike team; five ambulance strike teams with 57 members; three urban search-and-rescue teams with 40 personnel; two health incident management teams with 10 personnel; and a four-member team of emergency management officials.

Perry said the Region 1 team includes: five ambulances (two each from Sullivan and Washington/JC and one from Greene); five paramedics (two each from Sullivan and Washington/JC and one from Greene); five EMTs (two each from Sullivan and Washington/JC and one from Greene); and one leader (from Sullivan).

Florida’s EMAC request asked for an initial deployment of up to 14 days, Perry said, and at that point if assistance is still needed, a relief team will be sent and those currently helping will come home.

Perry said when he put out the call for volunteers from those with the proper training to answer, the response was overwhelming.

“I had about four times as many as I needed who were willing to go,” Perry said. “That shows you where their heart is.”

Perry said those chosen to go were intentionally picked from different shifts on the EMS work schedule, and  some extra part-time or overtime hours will cover the local need if necessary.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Perry said of sending the local members to help victims of Hurricane Irma. “And we could need help here someday due to some other type of disaster.”