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First Responders From Several States Gathering In Tallahassee For Hurricane Irma Recovery

Gina Jordan/WLRN
These ambulances are parked at the Tallahassee fairgrounds waiting for Hurricane Irma deployment orders. The medical teams have no idea where they'll end up.

About four miles from the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee, FEMA is gathering the first responders that will be deployed around Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 

Emergency medical responders from several states are ready to act, including Lynn Pitts from Stone Mountain, Georgia. She has some advice after working in Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

“Make sure you have non-perishables,” Pitts says, “because you may not get emergency personnel or any other services to you for days or maybe weeks.”

She doesn't know where she'll be sent in the coming days for her post-Irma assignment. "They haven't let us know, but whatever they decide to have as our mission, that's what we'll go out and do."

Pitts and other responders arrived in Tallahassee Friday morning.

“This looks like a huge hurricane – a Katrina-like hurricane – and that, I think, is the most dire issue right now," says Randy Lauer, an incident commander with American Medical Response. The medical transportation provider has a contract with FEMA to manage a network of 150 ambulance companies.

You may not get emergency personnel or any other services to you for days or maybe weeks.

“Our main mission is to evacuate people from hospitals and nursing homes, and people who otherwise cannot evacuate themselves,” Lauer says.

He’s joined in Tallahassee by a hundred ambulance teams parked in a line at the fairgrounds.

“They’re ready to go,” Lauer says. “It’s just waiting for the request from the state government to the federal government to kind of loop its way back down to us so we can go out and start helping out.”

Lauer says none of the responders awaiting orders at this staging area are from Florida.

“We don’t use anyone from the affected state, so there are no Florida ambulances or emergency responders here with this federal deployment at all,” Lauer says. But, “American Medical Response has a number of ambulance resources in the state of Florida normally, and of course, they’re working really hard right now also.”

This is Lauer’s tenth hurricane. He says his family in Portland, Oregon is used to him being away for work, as he was for Hurricane Harvey in Texas.