JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They’re back in Jacksonville, but they may have left their hearts in northwest Florida.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Medical Strike Team returned home Wednesday after working long days trying to help the people of the Panhandle who were affected by Hurricane Michael.
“It was emotional,” said JFRD Deputy Division Chief Jake Blanton. “It was rewarding to see the staff at the hospital. When we arrived, you could tell they were thankful we were there.”
The team of 14 people deployed into the heart of Hurricane Michael’s devastation to fill the void of medical attention -- a void carved out by a Category 4 storm.
They left a week ago and it seems like they will never forget what they saw.
"I can see the comparison to a war zone," said Dominique Bartley of the JFRD Medical Strike Team. "I have never seen a war zone either. But if I had to imagine, I'd think it would be something like that. The fact that it was a storm. Wind, water, rain, it uprooted trees (and) ripped bricks off the front of buildings, ripped roofs. Whenever you think of not evacuating, think of this.”
The Medical Strike Team easily saw the needs and did their best to meet them.
"They had lost power," Blanton said. "That affects their oxygen and ventilators and IV pumps, so they were desperate to get the patients out as quick as they could to another hospital and continue their care. So we took 10 patients and transported them to Pensacola."
They also earned the gratitude of the people who have months and probably years of recovery ahead.
"Some of them hadn’t seen their homes yet," Bartley said. "Yet they knew their homes had been destroyed. They were concerned (about whether) we were comfortable. And again continuously (were) expressing how grateful they were for us to be there. There is no way you can put any words to that.”
The Medical Strike Team is already thinking about how to be even more effective in the future and is brainstorming ways to get closer to the hardest hit areas and bring the right equipment to meet the needs.