Local team offers relief to rescue workers
Sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference – like getting cold beer to hurricane relief workers in the South.But a number of rescue workers from Pitkin County have done just that and a lot more in the past week in Baton Rouge, La. The team of six, led by Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson, is helping run Camp Colorado, a base camp for rescue workers.Set up in the parking lot of the Louisiana State Police Training Academy, the camp sleeps more than 400 rescue workers, many of whom travel an hour and a half each way to New Orleans. The camp feeds the workers and includes a medical clinic and “decontamination units” for those workers coming back from areas where they have been traveling through water contaminated with traces of lead, E. coli and “who knows what else,” Thompson said.Thompson and team member Ron Ryan, an investigator for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, spoke with the media by phone Wednesday afternoon to describe their work. The team gets up early in the morning to make sure generators are working to provide air conditioning in the heat and humidity. Thompson said they’re also maintaining facilities like broken toilets and showers, and supplying rescuers with blankets and pillows.The camp’s medical clinic – the only one in the three camps in Baton Rouge – typically gets 40 to 50 rescue workers caught up on shots every day.”It’s a busy place – we’re normally able to go to bed around midnight,” Thompson said. “Then we basically wake up at 6:30 a.m. and go back to work.”As a staging area for relief efforts, Baton Rouge has nearly doubled in population, and the streets are full of traffic gridlock, he said. Emergency sirens sound off 24 hours a day, and although there are stores open, the selection on the shelves is minimal, he said.The team from Pitkin County does a little of everything to keep the base camp up and running, he said.”Our public information officer informs the troops coming back in on the proper procedures to wash their hands – with lead in the water, there are some specific things you have to do to get the lead off,” he said. “A PowerPoint presentation every night tells people what kind of shots they should have.”The rescue workers are also starved for information – a few newspapers dropped off at the camp each day are “gone in milliseconds,” Thompson said. The team from Pitkin County has had success soliciting businesses in the area to donate satellite televisions and receivers to the camp; the televisions have been placed in tents where the workers can gather.The team calls this area the “wellness center” and has managed to get some beer for its grand opening – a big deal someplace where a cold drink is rare.”You take it for granted, but it’s like gold down here,” Ryan said.”One of our goals for the camp is keeping everyone well fed, well slept and taken care of so everyone is hydrated and no one’s sick,” Thompson said.A debriefing team at the camp is available to counsel those who have just returned from New Orleans, and a couple of priests are also around for counseling. Ryan said a group from Therapy Dogs International will bring dogs to the camp to keep everyone healthy, happy and de-stressed.”I think the responders are doing great, but some of them do want to go home, and they’re tired of being here,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of frustration, because we know there’s a lot of work out there to do. But we don’t see people having breakdowns.”As professional emergency responders themselves, Thompson said, the team members can relate to the people going into the devastation.”We’re living in the camp here with them, so we know what they need,” he said. “And if we’re uncomfortable, they’re uncomfortable.”The team from Pitkin County will be in Baton Rouge until Sept. 24. Their shift is just the right length, they said.”It takes people a while to get up to speed, so if we were rotating more often, we wouldn’t be as efficient,” Ryan said. “But I don’t think I would want to stay longer.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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