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Rescuers return from Louisiana

September 22, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

Chicken wings and handshakes welcomed four Community Rescue Service members back to Hagerstown Wednesday after 10 days helping Hurricane Katrina victims near New Orleans.

The CRS members were part of a Maryland convoy that included an ambulance and crew from Anne Arundel County and another from Howard County.

Two Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Service members - paramedic Bobby Pattison and emergency medical technician David Crossland - also went, using a Smithsburg ambulance, said Tom Anderson, Williamsport's chief.

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All of the emergency workers at a closed-down Jefferson Parish, La., hospital, which served as a base camp, were from Maryland, said Bob Shank, a CRS paramedic.

Each day, groups went from the base camp to assigned work spots.

Shank and Paul Virden, a cardiac rescue technician intermediate, worked together at a clinic in an elementary school in Harvey, La.

Virden, 22, of Hagerstown, said that clinic closed the first day they were there because not enough people were coming in for help. He and Shank then went to a clinic in a cafeteria in Kenner, La., for nine days.

The last day of their volunteer mission, they joined CRS' other team - EMT/firefighter Jonas Zeigler and paramedic Michael Mooers - at a community clinic in Avondale, La.

Zeigler and Mooers worked there the whole time.

Mooers, who lives in Hagerstown and declined to give his age, called the trip "very rewarding" for the chance to help so many people.

Crew members left for Louisiana in two CRS ambulances on Sept. 10. The hardest-hit hurricane victims were gone by the time they got there, said Shank, 35, of Williamsport.

Still, the CRS members cared for a steady flow of people at the clinics. They checked vital signs. They gave vaccinations. They drove some people to operating hospitals. They gave out food and water.

"A lot of 'em just wanted to talk to people," said Zeigler, 23, of Hagerstown. Social workers were there to listen and direct those people to aid.

Arkansas National Guard members provided security.

CRS members encountered gratitude well before Louisiana.

Zeigler said a woman prayed with them at a rest stop south of Knoxville, Tenn. Other motorists showed their approval. Shank said the highway was loaded with vehicles from emergency agencies on their way to help.

Meadowcrest Hospital, the base camp, was vacant when emergency workers arrived, but it had plenty of supplies. Shank said an earlier crew collected the dead bodies there and cleaned the building enough to use it, but not enough to make it look like a functioning hospital, which it wasn't.

The community center in Avondale was new and in good shape, Mooers said. A pediatric doctor, an emergency room doctor, social worker, pharmacist and some nurses saw patients there.

The CRS members had breakfast together at the base camp each day before splitting up and going to their appointed sites. They reconnected in the evening for dinner.

Before the crew members came home, they got to see the extensive damage in New Orleans, which they described as a barren city of plywood and padlocks. They said the smell, in particular, was powerful and memorable.

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