Five members of the Lions Emergency Medical Services (LEMS) have volunteered to travel to New Orleans in response to the call for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The five volunteers are Douglas Smith, senior biology major and chief president of LEMS, Kevin Mnich, junior nursing major and training and personnel captain of LEMS, Chris McKittrick, graduate student on the community counsel substance abuse path and vice president of special events and member services for LEMS, Matt Grabina, sophomore accounting major, and Ricky Blasi, senior math major and equipment officer of LEMS.
New Jersey’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) contacted all New Jersey counties Sept. 1 asking for an assessment of what medical services they could provide.
Upon receiving this e-mail, Smith asked for volunteers from LEMS and received a positive response.
“A few members were forced to stay behind mostly because of the uncertainty of the safety in recovery, since we were given no advance warning as to where we would be working,” Smith said.
The volunteers are currently awaiting further information from OEM, which will dispatch them if the need arises. What they will be called on to do is uncertain, and may include anything from helping find and rescue victims to staffing temporary medical centers that care for the injured until they can be flown to a hospital.
It is also uncertain how the LEMS members’ trip will be funded if they are called down, or even where they will be sleeping, but the volunteers don’t see that as a problem.
“The basic mindset of the LEMS members who agreed to go was that we could worry about (the) financials later, since people were dying every minute,” Smith said.
“For all we know, we could be in the arena,” McKittrick said.
Some of the volunteers are concerned about how professors will react to their students missing a full week of classes with little forewarning.
“I was excited, then apprehensive,” Grabina said. “I was worried about what my professors would say.”
“As time goes on, it will be more difficult to rationalize going down,” Mnich said. “Professors may feel less supportive a month down the road.”
However, McKittrick said his professors have been supportive, as were the two professors Grabina told about the trip.
They said their friends also have been supportive.
“I just want to thank everyone who expressed their willingness to help and support the cause,” Smith said. “Personally, I was practically offered the clothes off of my friends’ backs if it meant one extra clean pair of clothes for the ordeal.”
The LEMS volunteers are prepared to go down whenever called. “I’d like to help others with the training I’ve received,” Mnich said, recalling how he had been called to help during 9/11, but was told to pass out food and water instead of helping rescue people or offer medical assistance.
“The experience (of helping save lives) would definitely be awesome,” McKittrick said.
The volunteers agreed that despite the controversies emerging in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, from political blame to economic damage, it is helping the victims that remains most important to LEMS.
“I hope people will stop their political dissonance at least until the bulk of the recovery is underway,” Smith said.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter who screwed up. We can sort out that issue once the lives of thousands aren’t at stake.”