Answering the Call

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2010

As frightening and damaging as the downpours were this past week, it was even more daunting for those who actually had to get out in that weather to do their jobs.

Those were the people who work to serve the public, keep it safe and keep it informed.

People like the paramedics and the EMTs who work for SEOEMS. When a call goes out that someone is sick, in distress or hurt, those health care professionals have to get out, no matter how much the weather is negatively impacting the area.

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How do they do it?

“As far as responding to EMS calls, we work closely with the volunteer fire departments,” according to Eric Kuhn, executive director of Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Service.

When torrential rains block roads, those fire departments can be a vital link to a patient.

“Many of them have boats,” Kuhn said. “We also call on Aero Medical Services, services like the HealthNet helicopter out of Cabell Huntington Hospital. We work with them to access patients.”

When weather like last week’s hits, SEOEMS will call on the county emergency management agency that keeps a list of closed roads that is always faxed to the local SEOEMS station.

“We will get to patients in some manner,” Kuhn said. “There may be a delay. But as expeditiously as possible we will get to the patient. It is always a little more dangerous for our paramedics. We don’t want our paramedics getting into situations where they wade through creeks.”

When the weather is both wet and cold, paramedics may call on 4-wheel drive vehicles to get the patient out.

“The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office has been very helpful,” Kuhn said. “Sheriff Lawless has been helpful in having 4-wheel drives.”

Kuhn remembers a major flood more than a decade ago when the ambulance service got help from the National Guard and medical helicopters.

“We coordinated several transports by Aero-Medical helicopter out of Rome Township,” he said.

Just as vital to public safety are the area’s fire departments and out in the county, all of them are manned by volunteer personnel.

Right now, the Chesapeake-Union Township department might still have to do some rerouting as the rains caused considerable transportation havoc.

“We are on a delay going out County Road 31 because of the bridge and there’s a little bit of area on Buffalo Creek,” according to Ed Webb, assistant fire chief at the Chesapeake department.

These delays affect not only response time of the department going out to a fire or accident, but also how long it takes for the volunteer firefighters to get to the station. In some instances response times that are normally a minute or two can now take 15 minutes.

“It is a big delay,” Webb said. “All you can do is bear with it and hope and pray the residents understand why there are going to be a little bit of a delay.”

When the water is high, the last thing firefighters want to do is drive a multi-ton truck over a roadway that could be cracked or caved in.

“We try to avoid crossing high water,” he said. “We don’t want to lose or disable a truck in high water, then it is of no value.”

Most often the men will park on side of the high water with crews going up and down stream searching for safe passage, which when they find it will convey through radio contact.

But the weather can impact professions like firefighters in more ways than getting to the scene of a fire. The elements can also hinder these professionals in the field.

“Heat exhaustion will get to you quicker than being cold,in 90 degrees, even if you were to walk, in shorts and T-shirts,” Webb said. “We don’t have that. We have heavy fire protective gear. You are going to drop. It will take the feet right out from under you. The gear is so heavy, in the heat it zaps you.”

That’s why it is an unwritten rule that the first firefighter to get to the station on a call, grabs two or three bags of ice to throw on the containers of drinking water that are always kept on the truck.

“A simple call like a car wreck, you are out on the asphalt. You might be there for a long time,” he said. “You can’t imagine how hot it is. If it is a really severely involved house fire, I have seen people drink three bottles of water in just a few minutes.”

Not everyone who has to battle the elements is involved in such lifesaving work as a paramedic or firefighter. But still these folks are expected to get out and do their job. After all, the “through hail and sleet” jingle says so. They’re the postal workers.

And the postal workers at the Pedro office were in the trenches this week getting the mail out even though they fought through high water and a downed bridge.

When the bridge at Vesuvius Furnace was washed out, these mail carriers had to come up with a way to back track and come in on the backside to take care of their customers.

“We have to find a way,” Justin Jackson, Pedro postmaster, said. “We can’t say we aren’t going to deliver on that side of the bridge. We have to get that mail to that home.”

And anytime a carrier can’t make a delivery, it has to be reported to the Columbus headquarters how many boxes were missed that day and how much first class mail wasn’t delivered.

“This was the worst the carriers have ever had to endure,” Jackson said. “This time there was mud. As the water receded, there was mud in the boxes to scrap out before they could put the mail in.”

There are three carriers who work out of the Pedro office: Billy Mays, Lisa Malone and Misty Akers. Together they have 1,300 families on their rural routes and cover 260 miles a day.

On Wednesday there were only 36 boxes these carriers couldn’t get to.

Often customers would call the post office to ask that their carrier not to make the trip up their road because of the treacherous conditions.

“They went up,” Jackson said. “It was the carriers’ determination. They know the needs of the customer. I can’t say enough about my carriers. They are very devoted. That’s not bad.”