Area residents selected for national disaster training

Monmouth volunteers participate in federal exercise in Virginia

BY PATRICIA YOCZIS Correspondent

Neither heat nor cramped living conditions deterred four Monmouth County residents who were selected for a rigorous federal disaster field training program that will now enable them to deploy anywhere in the United States should a natural or man-made disaster strike.

The four individuals are Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) members of the Monmouth County Health Department and they trained for six days at Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Va.

The Office of the Surgeon General’s Office of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) and the Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (OCVMRC) co-sponsored the venture that paid all the expenses for the MRC participants.

Lisa Lee of Colts Neck, Carl Enriquez of Manalapan and Wayne Farmer, M.D., of Manasquan attended the Aug. 9-15 session, while Jerry Weaver of Millstone Township is scheduled to attend the Sept. 9-12 session.

Lee, who is the MRC volunteer coordinator for the county’s health department, said this training marks the first time MRC members worked as teammates with U.S. Public Health Service officers.

MRC participants previously completed core training courses that prepare them to supplement existing emergency and public health resources. Only about 25 MRC applicants were selected nationally and trained with a total of about 150 participants, she said.

“We helped set up and staff a federal medical shelter for the 13-hour mock hurricane disaster drill with swine flu cases,” said Lee. “A shelter for animals with veterinarians was also set up. It was amazing to see the flow as all the units were assembled.”

Lee initially was assigned to the rapid deployment force finance team that was responsible for purchasing supplies other than food and water. Later, she worked in triage (screening of injured individuals) to admit people and to supply them with tracking bands.

“It was an incredible experience to have access to this federal training for use here in Monmouth County,” she said.

Lee was OK with everything, even living in a barracks (that were air-conditioned) with its lumpy bunk beds. The building housed about 90 women with only three showers, three toilets and five sinks.

“I just was not prepared for how tired I was after the drill, but it was worth it,” she said.

Enriquez, who is a member of the Manalapan MRC and the township’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), said the federal training was what he expected, even the Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) packs.

“I was in the Navy and the training was similar,” he said. “The first three days were in-house training, followed in the evenings with boot camp exercises. A team of five or six members were presented with a challenge to highlight leadership and team building.”

His team’s challenge was to ford an 8- foot wide pond with only a rope and a 6- foot long board. Seven members were required to cross the pond in 15 minutes.

The applied public health team was an assignment for Enriquez, who owns a domestic disaster recovery planning business that protects information technology, infrastructure and personnel.

“We were the second wave, after the military, that went in and surveyed the needs and number of victims,” he said. “We radioed back the damage, the injuries and what basics to send.”

The disaster drill training, he said, did not required superior athletic abilities.

“Be in good shape and do average exercise,” said Enriquez, who is a scuba diver. “Plus, the drill was a great way for anyone to experience military life.”

Farmer is medical doctor and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who was chief of staff at Patterson Army Health Clinic at Fort Monmouth, Eatontown. He worked in the mock disaster federal medical

shelter. “They threw everything at us,” said Farmer, who was a chief of staff at CentraState Medical Center, Freehold Township, and volunteers at the Parker Family Health Clinic, Red Bank. “After we had the mock patients settled from the hurricane and swine flu, a mock fire

was declared and we had to move the victims. It was organized chaos plus a tough, realistic, grand experience,” he said.

Farmer said the MRC members, who came from numerous states, blended well with the military participants in the mock exercise.

“It’s great practice for our area with hurricanes and the swine flu pending,” he said. “The MRC members and local emergency members will be the first feet hitting the ground when disaster strikes for at least 72 hours until federal assistance arrives.”

Weaver, an emergency medical technician and 1st lieutenant of the Millstone Township First Aid Squad, cannot wait to arrive at Fort A.P. Hill for his federal training exercise.

“I want it to be as stressful as possible and to mirror real-life situations,” he said. “It (the training) will enhance my competence and help me prepare for the unexpected.”

Weaver, a chemical product manager, said he looks forward to interacting with other agencies and learning everything he can.”

With all of the financial cutbacks in training members in the emergency services, this is a great opportunity,” said Weaver. “I’m packed and ready to go.”

The Monmouth County Health Department has about 300 MRC volunteer members. Medical and nonmedical volunteers are encouraged to join, especially during this hurricane season, the upcoming flu season and the threat of an H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic.

For more information about the Medical Reserve Corps of the Monmouth County Health Department, contact Lee at 732-683-8501 or send an email to LLee@co.monmouth.nj.us or click on www.medicalreservecorps.gov and select Find MRC Units.