Partnership between service members and local volunteers keeps people safe during airshow

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt Kristi McDonald

The Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show is a great time for members of the community to come out and see the extraordinary capabilities of our nation’s service members. Many hours of planning and labor go into making sure that the show runs smoothly time and time again.

       Our service members are trained to respond to any situation that may arise. What would happen if a spectator were to be injured or become ill while enjoying the show? It would be difficult and nearly impossible to summon a rescue from outside of the base to get through traffic and hordes of people to reach a patient. That is where the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) comes in.

DMAT is a nonprofit organization, a team made up of more than 1,600 volunteers from the local New England area. The objective is to provide medical care, and be ready for any disaster that comes their way. In charge of the entire organization is Team Leader, Tom Lawrence. Lawrence is a U.S. Navy veteran who has been running the operation for 20 years. His main goal is to make patients in his care feel comfortable and at ease.

 “When you look around at the tents we set up, you can see that we make it look as much as a real hospital as possible. Even though we are providing assistance in a parking lot, we have all of the tools that we need to handle whatever comes our way” said Lawrence.

The team is made up multiple doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists and even behavioral specialists. There is also a separate entity of approximately 85 people that make up a culinary team, preparing meals in a full kitchen that allows volunteers to be well fed and ready to go.  

The multiple tent set up consists of different areas that each serves their own purpose. In the main tent, patients are checked in and from there can be sent to where they need to be treated. Injuries are categorized by their severity; patients are placed in the green or yellow tents for minor injuries, and red for extreme emergencies that require immediate medical attention. Some injuries that may take place during large events like the air show are heat exhaustion, stroke, heart attacks, and accidents from tripping on obstacles and hazards.

 There is a dispatch center that receives the information on an emergency radio and four trailers set up along the flight line to easily respond to where the emergency takes place. The patient then gets transported to the DMAT tent where they receive proper treatment. The tents are either heated or air conditioned, depending on the weather, and there is a certified electrician on standby to make sure all of the power elements stay up and running. All of the supplies inside of the tents are everything that you can find in a typical hospital. From IV’s to X-ray machines, there are various tools and instruments ready to go.

 Some of the expired equipment is used in the training room, where volunteers can sharpen their skills on practice dummies in the down time that they have.

“One of the biggest complaints of volunteers in the past when I survey them is that they get bored when there’s nothing to do and things are quiet. I set up a training tent so that volunteers can share their knowledge with each other and practice for situations that may be out of their normal element” said Lawrence.

Preparation and readiness are crucial for preventing disaster, Lawrence adds more precautionary tactics each year to make sure all of their bases are covered and crowds continue to stay safe.

Each year, DMAT receives a high number of exceptional volunteers that need to be screened for proper credentials. In charge of placing all of the volunteers, is Erin McDonough, an administrative worker that has been with the team since 2007.

“My favorite part of working here at the air show is the amazing turnout of volunteers. When people come back to work with us, it means that we succeeded the first time” said McDonough.

 Both McDonough and Lawrence can both agree that the entire weekend experience is a humbling one.

 “You create relationships with both the civilian and military partners. It’s really great to see the collaboration and all of the hard work and effort everyone puts in” said McDonough.

The success of the DMAT greatly depends on the medical staff but it also needs people like McDonough to handle all of the logistics required to run the entire operation.

The air show is an annual highlight for the Rhode Island National Guard, where families gather and spend time enjoying the various performances. It may put people at ease knowing that if disaster were to strike, the Rhode Island DMAT team is readily available to provide top quality care and assistance. They are a crucial part to ensuring public safety. The partnership between the civilian volunteers and the various military members keeps the Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Airshow prepared for any scenario each year.