The Woodward News

May 21, 2013

Woodward County EMS helping with tornado response

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Woodward County EMS has joined in the response efforts to the devastation following the deadly EF-5 tornado in Central Oklahoma.

The local emergency medical service sent an ambulance and support vehicle along with 3 paramedics, 1 intermediate EMT and 1 basic EMT to Moore on Monday night.

Vanessa Brewington, administrator for Woodward County EMS, said the vehicles and personnel were sent as part of a Regional Emergency Medical Service System (REMSS) strike team. The group from Woodward County joined with ambulances and personnel from Guymon, Enid, Kingfisher and the Clinton area to make up the REMSS Region 1 strike team.

While the ambulance was sent to help transport patients if needed as the search and rescue efforts continued Monday night into Tuesday morning, Brewington said the support vehicle was sent “to help carry supplies such as extra oxygen.”

This helps the crews to be better prepared for whatever situation they might encounter, since when the strike team was deployed it wasn't clear what kind of cases the crews might have to deal with.

Brewington said the responding EMS crews wouldn't know what they would be asked to do until after reporting to the incident command post.

“They will be there for medical support, whatever the incident command needs them to do,” she said.

In a brief interview with The News early Tuesday afternoon, Brewington said she believed the Region 1 strike team was sent to accompany some search and rescue teams as they went through neighborhoods, double and triple checking for any people still trapped in debris and rubble.

But she didn't have much additional detail as to what the Woodward County crew in particular was experiencing.

“Whatever it is, I'm sure they're pretty busy,” she said.

Brewington also told The News that it wasn't clear how long the EMS teams would be needed to stay and assist with efforts in Moore, but they were prepared to help as long as they could.

“We go prepared to be self-sufficient for 3 days; we provide our own food, water, clothing, things like that,” she said.

This self-sufficiency is important because it helps ensure that those donations of items coming in for relief efforts “are available to those who were affected,” she said.

If the Woodward County personnel are needed for longer periods, Brewington said Woodward County EMS will look at sending in other personnel and resources to relieve the first crew.

However, she said it is difficult to determine early on how long the additional EMS assistance might be needed.

“I'm not sure how long they'll be needed,” Brewington said. “Right now we're waiting to see how long the deployment will be before we send another team down to trade out personnel.”

But she said there are plenty of EMS staff who are willing to go help as they can.

She explained that the paramedics and EMTs who participate in the strike team all do so on a volunteer basis.

“It's strictly voluntary,” Brewington said. “Of course everybody wanted to go, but we can't send everybody because we still have a service here we have to staff. Everybody is more than willing to help out though.”

WOODWARD COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT STRIKE TEAM CALLED OFF

Several Woodward County firefighters were also ready and willing to go help as well.  In fact, around 25 firefighters in 8 vehicles from all 5 county fire departments responded as part of a separate search and rescue strike team on Monday.

However, Woodward Fire Chief Steve Day said that the firefighters were eventually told they weren't needed and had to turn around in El Reno to return back to their stations.

After being deployed Monday afternoon, Day said he was "in touch with our dispatch on the whole way down there, having them send teletypes to see if we were still needed."

"They got in touch with us just before we got to El Reno and said they had enough help," he said.  "So we confirmed with the state Emergency Operations Center to make sure we weren't needed before heading back."

Day said that the local firefighters had a mixed reaction to having their strike team called off.

"It was kind of a disappointment, but also kind of a relief," he said.  "It was a disappointment because everyone was tuned up and ready to go.  We want to be able to help and to participate.  But it was a relief because of what we went through last year.  Ours was a big event, but the event down there was 10 to 20 times as big."

Even while they were still expecting to go assist, Day said there were "double-edged" emotions.

"We don't want to see what we may see, but we also don't want to not be there to help," he said.

While the Woodward County team was told their assistance wasn't needed on Monday night, Day said the team remained on standby in case they might be needed later.

However, as the search and rescue and recovery efforts wrapped up on Tuesday, Day said he didn't believe the team would be requested again.

"There's always a chance, but I don't anticipate we will be," he said.  "But if we do get a call, we'll get a team together and head that way.  We always have firefighters willing to make that trip and sacrifice."

Especially considering how much assistance Woodward received when conducting its own search and rescue operations following the April 15, 2012 tornado.

"We had 37 departments with over 270 firefighters come to help us last year," Day said.  "And anytime that happens, you want to return the favor, pay it forward."