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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Answering the call of duty

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eric Faulkner and Kasey Newman with the Mammoth Spring ambulance service through Fulton County Hospital along with several area emergency response teams, went to Louisiana to help with Hurricane Gustav relief. Photo by Emily McIntosh
As the raging winds and high tides from Hurricane Gustav pummeled the Gulf Coast, paramedics and emergency medical technicians with emergency trucks and ambulances from across the nation were called to help in hard-hit areas before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could mobilize.

There were several emergency response teams from this area that answered the call for help in emergency relief and evacuation of areas in Louisiana.

"We got a call at around 4 that afternoon (Aug. 30) from EMAC and we left about 6," EMT paramedic Eric Faulkner of the Mammoth Spring ambulance service said.

EMAC is the Emergency Management Assistance Compact that Congress ratified for the states to help each other out in an emergency. According to www.emacweb.org, there were about 3,000 emergency personnel that were sent to places that were hit by Hurricane Gustav. According to Faulkner, there were about 538 ambulances that checked in at the stage center in Alexandria, La. There were also about 18 trucks from Arkansas to help with rescue efforts after the storm, Faulkner said.

According to both Faulkner and Kasey Newman, a basic EMT who also went down to Louisiana, the staging center in Alexandria was an agricultural center on the campus of Louisiana State University. Faulkner said there were about 1,000 people in the area at Alexandria. "All the hotels in town were full," Newman said.

"When we get called out to these things, we're actually supposed to be packed and supplied for five days," Faulkner said. The two EMTs both said they had to sleep in the back of one of the Fulton County Hospital ambulances. They said they know how uncomfortable the back of the ambulance really is after they slept in it for several days.

The two also went to Baton Rouge where the LSU campus was being used as an evacuation center. Both of them said it was eerie traveling down the interstate. "There were four lanes of interstate that were absolutely dead," Faulkner said. For safety and security Faulkner said emergency vehicles traveled in convoys of five to 20 trucks and ran check stations outside city limits on the interstate.

At the time, New Orleans was under a mandatory evacuation but the hospitals were still staffed and running. Faulkner and Newman said they would take patients back into New Orleans after the storm for treatment, but, "Bringing patients out of New Orleans was a pain," they both said. To bring patients to Arkansas, they said, they had to wait in long lines as people scrambled to get out of Louisiana.

When the hurricane hit, the two of them took shelter in a motel. "We sat through a category one hurricane," Faulkner said.

Faulkner and Newman returned Sept. 4. "We don't want to be described as heroes," they said.

"I take a lot of pride in what I do, even though it puts binds on homelife," said Faulkner, who got the call as he was celebrating his 3-year-old son's birthday.

"It was a need that was required and we went," he said.

Faulkner and Newman weren't the only ones from the area that went to help out. The Arkansas Emergency Transport service out of Izard County and the city of Horseshoe Bend sent emergency crews. Vital Link in Batesville and a group from the Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service went down to Alexandria, as well.

Paramedics Jeff Graefe and Andy Schisler from SRPAS went through similar experiences as Faulkner and Newman, including sleeping in the back of their own ambulance and bunking down during the hurricane's destruction.

"People in need got the help they needed, the people we dealt with were very appreciative of the help we were providing," Graefe said.

Graefe and Schisler had to be recalled Sept. 2 to deal with severe weather from the hurricane back home in Sharp County.

This wasn't the first time SRPAS has helped out with hurricane evacuations. When Hurricane Rita hit Texas in 2005, the crew was there making sure patients where safely evacuated.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Horseshoe Bend crew went down to Louisiana to transport patients from Little Rock back to hospitals in Louisiana. EMTs Jeanette Hilliker, Barry Wilkes and paramedic Nancy Wilkes made up the crew.

"Lots of people were scurrying around," Hilliker said. "Whenever we'd stop to fill up, people were asking for directions."

Hilliker said there were many downed trees and power lines and lots of dislocated people.

"The amount of water and the displacement of people was pretty shocking," Nancy Wilkes said. "It was pretty wild seeing ambulances from everywhere."

Those who went to help from Izard County were not available for an interview because they have been called back to help with Hurricane Ike relief.

Gov. Mike Beebe declared 15 counties disaster areas Sept. 22 due to Hurricane Ike's wake. Following Hurricane Gustav, Beebe declared 20 counties disaster areas. Among the counties recently deemed disaster areas are Sharp and Izard. Damage assessments from the high winds and rain that swept through the area have yet to be estimated.

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