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Oregon MRC volunteers travel northward for FMS training

On June 13, Oregon and Washington MRC volunteers teamed up in an effort to make the Pacific Northwest more self-sufficient during times of emergency. Crossing state lines, 28 Oregon MRC volunteers joined their northern colleagues at the Puyallup Fairgrounds & Event Center in Puyallup, WA, for an eight-hour crash course in the assemblage and operation of a Federal Medical Station (FMS).

An FMS is a rapidly deployable 250-bed alternate care facility, capable of housing, triaging, and holding displaced patients for whom local acute care systems are incapacitated. Deployed by four truckloads from the CDC’s nearest Strategic National Stockpile site, each FMS has approximately three days of supplies, and consists of three modules: basic support, treatment, and pharmaceuticals.

Previous FMS deployments have included the supplies as well as federal staff to help construct the facility. With federal assistance, it should take no longer than 12 hours to get the station fully operational. This particular training, however, tested a bold new concept – building and staffing an FMS without federal help.

“My goal with the training was to provide some level of familiarization with running an alternate care facility, and using the federal cache of supplies and equipment to do that,” said Sally Abbott, Medical Surge Coordinator for the state of Washington and the FMS training’s planner. “I think it will take a little bit more work [towards self-sufficiency], but I’m more confident now after seeing the enthusiasm and the flexibility of the folks that were here, that we could do it.”

The training’s events included volunteers manually assembling some of the beds, learning about proper bed layout, shelter hygiene and cleanliness, familiarization with FMS inventory, as well as triage and role-playing as mock victims.

“This [training] was a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step, because this is creating a health care facility in time of crisis for people who are medically fragile, where one didn’t exist before. This was a barn on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ve made it into a health care facility. You’re building it from the ground up, that’s very challenging and these folks were willing to work with us to do that, so that’s incredible,” said Abbott.

Mary Selecky, Washington State Secretary of Health, and Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen made brief appearances and toured the fairgrounds, both extolling the importance of emergency preparedness.

“We didn’t have this asset available to us [previously],” said Selecky. “We’re very pleased that the government continues to invest in community needs.”

The training also fostered a sense of camaraderie between the two MRCs – camaraderie that may be a valuable asset one day.

“I think it’s really important for us in the Northwest to work together with our neighbors,” said Alisa Ward, Linn County MRC volunteer and a mental health registered nurse.  “One of the points that they made several times is that the area affected by the disaster may not have that many available volunteers because those people are going to be involved with their own families, their own jobs. They may require help from outside volunteers to come in and provide some extra support.”

Abbott agreed.

The bottom line is that when we have a disaster, we have people who will need medical care. We share a very long border with Oregon, and I think it’s important that we help each other out. Our goal here is that we take care of as many people as possible and do the best that we can.”

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