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'A humbling experience' for local first responders who helped after Hurricane Harvey

'A humbling experience' for local first responders who helped after Hurricane Harvey
Baltimore County emergency medical services Lt. Rick Blubaugh III deployed to Texas for two weeks with Maryland-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Standing behind Blubaugh at the county's emergency operations center in Towson is County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Several Baltimore County first responders are back in Maryland after spending weeks helping with medical care, emergency operations and search and rescue in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Meanwhile, five county employees are continuing to help with recovery from Hurricane Irma, which rolled through Florida on Sunday and continues north.

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"It was truly a humbling experience to serve other Americans in need," said Lt. Rick Blubaugh III, an emergency medical supervisor who normally works at the Middle River station. He also volunteers at the White Marsh station.

He spent two weeks in Texas — first in Dallas, later in Houston — working in MASH-like emergency rooms set up in tents.

Blubaugh is part of the Maryland-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The team is comprised of medical and disaster professionals from around the Washington, D.C., area who can be called into action by the federal government to help in crisis situations. They work under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the tents, Blubaugh and other medical workers treated people with all types of health problems, many of them serious, including heart attacks. Some were experiencing complications of chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney failure because they lacked medical care and access to medication while fleeing their homes.

The patients came from an adjacent shelter or were brought in by rescue workers, Blubaugh said.

Terry Sapp, a public health emergency coordinator in the county's health department, was sent with the Maryland-1 team to the small town of Silsbee, Texas, near Beaumont, where a medical clinic was set up in a high school gym.

In Silsbee, the gym-turned-medical clinic was the only medical care available to local residents, Sapp said. The team focused on triaging patients based on their condition, stabilizing them and transporting them elsewhere for medical care if their problems were serious.

"We serve our communities. This is a chance to serve our country," said Sapp, who also volunteers with the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company

Lt. Kevin Palmer, an emergency medical technician at the Middle River station and a volunteer at the White Marsh station, also was deployed to Texas. He said medical assistance team members work both locally — they set up for presidential inaugurations and other major events in Washington — and for disasters across the country, such as Hurricane Harvey.

Seasons, a kosher market in Pikesville, collects items for victims of Hurricane Harvey to truck down to Houston. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

One county employee on the Maryland-1 Disaster Medical Team is still deployed, working on Hurricane Irma recovery.

Other county employees were called up to serve with Pennsylvania Task Force 1, which provides search and rescue and specialized technical teams during emergencies. The Pennsylvania Task Force is overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Five employees were called up with the Pennsylvania task force, including one who went to Texas who has returned home, another who went to Texas and has been redeployed to Florida and three who were sent straight to Florida.

County Fire Chief Kyrle W. Pries III said he was proud of the county employees for taking on such "emotionally and physically difficult assignments."

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