Fire fighters and paramedics in need of psychological and medical care and basic relief are turning to their own and finding support.
A comprehensive response program to assist first responders along the Gulf Coast with short- and long-term financial, housing, medical, behavioral health and other special needs has been established by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the union for professional fire fighters and paramedics, based out of its hurricane command response headquarters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"Fire fighters and emergency medical personnel along the Gulf Coast have continued working through this disaster, but they have personal and family needs of their own to address," says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "Our members are still looking for loved ones, trying to find shelter, rebuild their homes and lives, all while coming to grips with the mental strain caused by this horrendous tragedy. The IAFF is on the ground making sure they get the care they need in every respect."
Specifically, the first responders are receiving appropriate medical attention concerning potential health threats as a result of living and working in the disaster zone. Among the concerns are:
- Exposure to contaminated water, raw sewage, petroleum products, agricultural and industrial wastes, insects and rodents, human and animal body fluids and unsanitary environments.
- Vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus.
- Behavioral and psychological effects, including depression, stress reactions or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- The need for a complete hands-on physical that monitors overall health, including fluid and electrolyte status, gastrointestinal disturbances (resulting from the consumption of contaminated food and water), insect or animal bites, skin conditions (rashes and sores resulting from exposure to chemicals or immersion in standing water) as well as traumatic injuries (puncture wounds, lacerations, contusions, fractures or sprains).
- The need for comprehensive medical (laboratory test) evaluation.
"The first responders never left the affected cities and towns. We saw that they were not getting the support they needed from day one – including basic materials and supplies – so we stepped in to support our brothers and sisters in their heroic efforts," says IAFF 14th District Vice President Danny Todd, who is leading the local effort in coordination with IAFF staff in Washington, DC. "As we continue to provide the first responders with the support they need to do their jobs, we are also providing the basic physical and mental health care they desperately need."
Thousands of fire fighters from across the country have assembled and remain in action in the hurricane region, performing emergency search and rescue missions, responding to calls in their communities, removing the dead, clearing trees, serving as information officers and acting in other capacities during this time of extreme need and circumstances.