Franklin County Commissioner Dave Hinson is back in Missouri after nearly two weeks in the New Orleans area dealing with Hurricane Ida and its aftermath.
Hinson has worked in emergency medical services since 1988, having assisted on hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other disasters in the past. But with children and other obligations, he had not gone to work in a disaster situation in several years and was caught by surprise when he got the call Friday, Aug. 27, that he might be needed as Ida approached Louisiana.
“I said, if push comes to shove where you absolutely need someone, yes, I’ll go,” Hinson said as he awaited his return flight Friday, Sept. 10.
Hinson got a call that Saturday afternoon, Aug. 28, saying someone would pick him up at 7 p.m. He would be needed.
“I had about an hour and a half to pack my stuff and head out,” he said. “I started to prepare myself whenever I first talked to them on Friday. I know how these go. They give you that little warning shot.”
Hinson was part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response team. The group operated more than 200 ambulances through FEMA contractor American Medical Response Inc.
On Sunday, Aug. 29, the day Ida made landfall, Hinson set up sleeping quarters, showers, bathrooms and parking areas for the ambulances and personnel that were coming in. They rode the storm out in Gonzales, Louisiana, 57 miles northwest of New Orleans.
FEMA regulations prevented them from responding to the storm until around 8 a.m. Monday, Aug. 30, because sustained winds had to go below 40 mph.
Even leaving the building where the paramedics sheltered in place was tricky because fallen trees blocked one road while the other road was flooded.
After the storm, Hinson assisted in setting up a staging area in New Orleans and serving on a 911 response team. This was his first time working primarily 911 calls with FEMA.
Like many impoverished communities, Hinson said many people in New Orleans were struggling before the storm.
“They’re on the brink of failure as it is,” Hinson said. “When you have a disaster like this come through, whether it is water, electric or a shutoff, and then you have flooding, it just throws their system into a spiral that’s already overloaded.”
In previous disasters, Hinson has worked evacuating patients from assisted living or nursing homes to places with electricity.
Although each disaster response has its own challenges, responding to Hurricane Ida was made more difficult because of the ongoing pandemic.
Paramedics had to provide patients with oxygen and breathing treatments. Then they would transfer patients to hospitals that already were overwhelmed because of COVID-19, and patients who could only get medical care through the emergency room.
Once they got a patient to the hospital, Hinson said he waited an average of 45 minutes with the patient before they were seen by a nurse.
“We had one ambulance that had to wait three hours for one patient,” he said.
Hinson said he helped people with heat exhaustion and people with respiratory issues who were having difficulty breathing. He also transported patients to hospitals who were dealing with mental health issues or stomach problems.
Hinson said responders also worked with patients who had COVID-19 or were recovering from it.
“As long as their oxygen saturations were fine, they just wanted reassurance that they were doing the right thing as far as fluids and ibuprofen and Tylenol and treating symptoms,” Hinson said. “Most of those people we did not transport to the hospital.”
The paramedics did deal with some very sick trauma patients, who hospitals kept beds open for, Hinson said.
Hinson was the only person in his group from Franklin County but said some from the county served with Missouri Task Force 1, a FEMA search and rescue team based in Boone County.
Hurricane Ida killed at least 26 people in Louisiana and at least 50 more in states from Virginia to Massachusetts. It is estimated to have caused at least $50 billion in damages, according to The Associated Press.
Hinson was elected to the first of two terms as second district commissioner in 2016 after serving three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Assisting in emergencies is Hinson’s primary calling, he said.
“Everybody that knows me from the area knows that I’ve been a paramedic and a firefighter all my career,” he said. “This politician stuff, I enjoy doing it and serving the people, but being a first responder is my first love.”