FORT LEE — Fort Lee has officially joined the nationwide Hurricane Florence relief effort, as emergency medical services personnel from various states and agencies have convened on base in preparation for dispatch.
On Wednesday night, about 100 ambulances full of EMS personnel from all over the country arrived at Fort Lee, where they will remain until dispatched to help localities severely impacted by the hurricane.
“All of these ambulances in some way, shape or form were coordinated through FEMA to be relief and recovery people for Hurricane Florence, and in the meantime they’re coming from all over," said Public Affairs officer Nate Allen. “We’ve got folks that are here from West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Missouri, they’re just from all over the place.”
Conveniently located close to multiple interstates, Fort Lee is serving as the coordination spot where EMS personnel from all over can come together and wait for the storm to pass through the Carolinas before hitting the road to assist.
“There has to be a coordination spot where they can all come together and get on the same sheet of music with the emergency operations center, get their instructions from FEMA when the time for the call comes, and then from there, they move out,” Allen said.
“Military installation is a good location for something like that, because we have infrastructure,” he added. “We’ve got a parking lot instead of just sitting in a muddy field. We’ve got rooms for them to stay in where there’s plumbing and electricity so they’re not living out of their ambulance until they finally get that call.”
Fort Lee also allows the different entities to come together and prepare in a location that is nearby but outside of Florence’s destructive path.
“When you have a big event like a big category four hurricane that moves into town, the last thing you want to do is to stage your recovery assets right in the path of that hurricane,” Allen said. “So you want to wait until the party’s over and then head there. Otherwise you lose all your horses and all your men.”
“The garrison here is part of what we would call a base support installation. We’re coming on to help stage vehicles, and this allows them to stay out of harm's way while we get ready to help others immediately after the worst part of the storm,” said Fort Lee Garrison Commander Hollie Martin. “So as soon as the routes and things are cleared, I’m quite sure someone will call forward for the national effort that’s going on.”
As Fort Lee serves as the transition point for EMS staff, Martin hopes everyone is able to fully prepare to support others. She noted the effort gives Fort Lee the chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“We’re able to show service by just lending a hand and allowing access to installation,” she said. “For the most part what we’re providing here is life support, a parking area, staging, just things to help everyone out to make sure the operation goes smoothly.”
One of the units staged at Fort Lee is the St. Francois County Ambulance District from Missouri. The St. Francois crew hit the road on Tuesday night and traveled 14 hours to Fort Lee.
The team of seven people has three ambulances, a support vehicle and two ambulances from another county in Missouri that's part of the same strike team. Several team members were also part of the relief effort when Hurricane Irma struck Florida. Just as with Irma, they aren’t sure how long they will be on the road.
“With Irma, they said we’d be there for a week, and we ended up staying two weeks,” said St. Francois team member Mike Dodson. “And right before we left, they tried to send us to the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, but then they realized they didn’t have any way to get us there, so we got to go home.”
“Right now, all we know is that they’re waiting for this storm to do its thing,” he added. “Then we’ll be sent out to one of the areas with the highest needs.”
Also as with Irma, the crew expects to help out with anything and everything.
“With Irma, we had people helping with recoveries, we had people that were transferring people from nursing homes to other nursing homes or hospitals, people back home to their residences, and then we also had people that were running 911 calls,” Dodson said.
Fort Lee expects more EMS crews to file in as Florence makes her way through the Carolinas, although they aren’t sure exactly how many. “We’re continuing to prepare to receive more personnel and more equipment,” Martin said.
Kelsey Reichenberg may be reached at email@example.com or 804-722-5109.