New York, NY November 2 - On Sunday afternoon, fences closed off Central Park in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. Instead of putting our ambulances out of service, however, Central Park Medical Unit geared up for what would be a multi-day response effort as the impending hurricane would leave a path of destruction in its wake. At the request of the Office of Emergency Management, CPMU responded to the Manhattan Veteran’s Administration Hospital to evacuate patients in advance of the storm. This well orchestrated evacuation process was CPMU’s “calm before the storm,” as our assignments in the days that followed were much more taxing, chaotic, and dangerous for our volunteers. By Monday evening, CPMU’s entire fleet was involved in storm-related response, which would continue virtually uninterrupted through early Thursday morning. In total, 28 volunteers were involved in the response effort, with many more standing ready at the wings should the operation have continued further.
On Monday night, CPMU volunteers participated in the emergency evacuation of NYU Langone Medical Center in Lower Manhattan. Over two hundred patients, including premature infants from the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, were rescued after both of the hospital’s generators failed. CPMU had ambulances on site within minutes of the call for help and worked throughout the night, transporting patients to other medical facilities which still had power. “The teamwork between the hospital staff, the Fire Department, Police Department, and all other ambulances was tremendous,” Garry Resnick, the Medical Unit’s VP of Operations said of the NYU evacuation. Patients on life support were painstakingly carried down many flights of stairs to ambulance stretchers that had been lined up on the 1st floor hallway. Hospital staff then accompanied them in the ambulances to other facilities. A photo of a neonatal patient on life support being loaded into a CPMU ambulance has been widely circulated around the world via the media.
Once the NYU Langone evacuation was complete on Tuesday, CPMU’s units were deployed to one of the most devastated areas of New York City: the Rockaways in Queens. CPMU’s units were part of a Strike Team that maneuvered through still-flooded streets, uprooted trees and power lines toward Horizon Nursing Home, located just blocks from the ocean. Horizon had lost power during the storm, and its 150 elderly patients were patiently waiting evacuation, sitting in dark, damp conditions. CPMU EMTs literally carried patients down the 6 flights of stairs to our waiting ambulances, and worked into early Wednesday morning, shuttling patients to a nursing home in Elmhurst, Queens, that still had power. In total, 22 patients were transported by ambulance from Horizon. The rest, who were ambulatory, were assisted onto school buses used to transport them safely. “This operation was different from NYU or the VA evacuation, as we were basically on our own with a handful of other ambulances. Fire and Police resources in the Rockaways were stretched so thin that we had to manage and complete this entire evacuation on our own,” says Greg Levow, the Medical Unit’s VP of Administration. “In addition to our ambulances, our most useful tools were our flashlights.” The conditions were dark, wet, and slippery, but all patients were safely removed without injury.
The completion of the Horizon evacuation was timely; as soon as our fleet returned to Manhattan, we were immediately re-deployed to Bellevue Hospital, which had just begun an unprecedented full scale evacuation, after having realized that the building’s infrastructure was so critically damaged that the facility could no longer function, even with generator power. Working alongside 80 other ambulances, the FDNY, NYPD, National Guard, and numerous other agencies, CPMU EMTs again evacuated patients and transported them to other facilities through the city. Our crews worked into the early hours of Thursday morning.
While CPMU and many other agencies were successful in saving countless lives over the last several days, there were unfortunately many fatalities caused by Hurricane Sandy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones and who will be facing difficult times ahead in the aftermath of this devastating act of nature.
As our 5-day response to Hurricane Sandy comes to a close, and we can focus on getting back to our normal operations, Central Park Medical Unit would like to recognize its volunteers who tirelessly worked to help our community, even in the midst of a total power and water loss in some of their homes: Brian Goldberg, Channa Wooten, Gabriel Tissian, Garry Resnick, George Contreras, Greg Levow, Joel Rowe, Jonathan Ehrlich, Kate Ague-Kneeland, Kelli Mullin, Marc Musicus, Mark Sanders, Matt Labunka, Matthew Tirschwell, Maggie Dicks, Megan Flynn, Miguel Gomez Marshall, Rafael Castellanos, Rafael Castellanos Jr., Roger Smith, Roger Thomas, Sam Bruce, Scott Sanders, Staley Dietrich, Steve Peluso, Dan Peneyra, Tareek Propst.
“This level of commitment is characteristic of the Unit’s volunteers,” says the Medical Unit’s President, Rafael Castellanos. “While our primary focus is Central Park, we are always ready to assist our community during a major emergency.” In recent years, the Medical Unit has responded throughout New York City for major incidents including Hurricane Irene, the 2010 Blizzard, The Blackout of 2003, and 9/11, to name a few. As we saw this week, Hurricane Sandy is no different.
Central Park Medical Unit is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, supported entirely by donations and grants. It has been serving the people of New York since 1975. Additional information is available at www.cpmu.com and www.facebook.com/ParkMedical.