Pa. EMS agencies mobilize to aid hurricane-stricken areas

Officials for one organization said staff and volunteers have been packing thousands of supplies, which will be shipped to support medical efforts in Cuba and Haiti

By Megan Guza
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Pittsburgh-area nonprofits and emergency services are sending food, medical supplies and first responders to the coastal and Caribbean areas struck by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to slam the East Coast in more than a decade.

Pittsburgh EMS sent two paramedics to Atlanta to assist with relief efforts. District Chief Roy Cox and Patient Care Coordinator Mark Pinchalk arrived Thursday ahead of the storm but were preparing for destruction left in Matthew's wake.

Public Safety spokeswoman Emily Schaffer said Cox and Pinchalk did not have specific assignments but would see where they are most needed after the storm passes. On Friday, they were picking up their medical gear, she said.

The two went as part of the National Disaster Medical System, a federal response team that deploys to areas hit by natural or man-made disasters. Members go to areas where local medical response teams are overwhelmed.

“They are just one team of many that is going to respond to the needs of the injured and sick on the East Coast,” Schaffer said.

Nonprofits started mobilizing early in the week as the storm picked up steam and began lashing the Caribbean.

Green Tree-based Global Links procured extra medical supplies and surplus equipment — including gloves, masks and gowns — from hospitals and businesses.

Officials for the organization said staff and volunteers have been packing thousands of supplies, which will be shipped to support medical efforts in Cuba and Haiti.

The North Side-based Brother's Brother Foundation has focused its efforts on Haiti, where the death toll Friday soared to more than 400. The foundation works to get medical supplies, food and other humanitarian supplies to areas in need.

Foundation President Luke L. Hingson said experts in Haiti worry that flooding, weakened water purification systems and masses of displaced people could cause widespread public health issues such diarrhea, respiratory problems and endemic cholera.

He said the storm's damage to roads and infrastructure in Haiti, particularly the island nation's southern region, can make it difficult for vulnerable population centers to receive aid.

“They may have food now, but at some point commerce can't occur,” he said.

Hingson noted that when disaster strikes, most people have a gut reaction of wanting to help.

“People in general want to help one another, but particularly if they see someone who needs help,” he said. “It's a very natural human response, and we give an opportunity for people who want to help overseas to do so.”

Copyright 2016 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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