Virginia Beach EMS workers part of hurricane medical response

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Hurricane Season is almost over, but clean-up in places like Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas continues.

Many people from our area have pitched in to help, and that includes volunteers with Virginia Beach’s EMS department.

The four volunteers deployed with DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Teams).  It wasn’t any of their first deployments, but what they saw will stay with them.

Elizabeth Beatty is no stranger to destruction. This fall marked her 7th and 8th DMAT deployments.

“To see two hurricanes at that intensity was really quite unbelievable,” said Beatty, who is a senior paramedic with Virginia Beach EMS.  First, her team was sent to Florida.  They thought they were heading home when they got the call to go to Puerto Rico.

PHOTOS: Va. Beach EMS deploys with DMAT

Beatty said, “It was a little bit humbling landing in San Juan, to see the destruction even at the airport.  We saw hangars ripped apart.”  She’s one of four Virginia Beach EMS workers who are currently on DMAT teams, which are deployed by the federal government.

“We are a fully functional field hospital,” said Teri Reeder, who is a senior paramedic with Virginia Beach EMS.  “We have doctors, PAs, nurse practitioners, medics there, and then all of our logistics and communications people.”

There are DMAT teams across the country, each with about 35 people who have different jobs but are all there to help.

“It’s heartbreaking to see people who really don’t have a lot to begin with lose everything that they own,” said Reeder.

The days were long and the work often tough.  Plus, the storms added another level of challenges.

“The damage to the infrastructure, and the damage to everything from their supply chains, power, food, water, the basic necessities that these people needed to live were just completely devastated,” said Virginia Beach EMS paramedic Jason Thurston.

They averaged hundreds of patients per day, all with different needs.

“Not only are we looking at your longer-term chronic patients, but we also had an emergent care unit there as well,” said Raj Islam, a captain with the Virginia Beach EMS.

In the end, they know their work made a difference.

“Being part of the team that takes care of thousands of people, I can’t even put that into words,” Islam said.

All of the volunteers say the biggest thing they learned was that you can never be over-prepared for a hurricane.