Interview: Serving as an EMT in the Gulf

In April of this year, the largest ocean petroleum spill to date occurred in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of an off-shore oil rig which exploded, killing eleven workers and injuring 17 others. Although the well was finally capped on July 15th , the damage had already been done. Not only was the wildlife heavily impacted, but it's affects also reached the coasts of many tourist locations. BP, the responsible party, sent crews to the site who are attempting to clean and contain the area by releasing dispersant into the water.

Also in April of 2010, Charles Richards (a former police officer with a knack for medicine) enrolled in the EMT 14-Day boot camp* at Unitek Education. "In all honesty, I think that the boot camp was, if not the best, one of the best programs in the country. I normally wouldn't recommend a two week boot camp if you don't have experience.. but the staff there just have a knack for getting the information across. It's almost downloaded into your brain. I learned more in that two week class than I did in the traditional nine month class that I took the first time at a different school."

Growing up in the Tallahassee area made Charles want to do his part in this major disaster and on July 1st, a mere 3 months later, he was confidently assisting scores of clean up crews; who are still threatened by this almost subtropical environment. It was only a couple weeks ago that the spill site was completely evacuated to make way for Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Charles decided to look for jobs in the Gulf on a Sunday, and by Monday morning he was receiving a call to report in Pensacola on Tuesday morning. EMTs are stationed at a variety of locations, including the beach and on boats. Charles even worked on the base for the first two weeks. "They don't really have enough EMTs. There were days when it would just be two of us for a team of sixty people. The goal was for one EMT for every ten people."

Driving up and down the coast on a 4-wheeler, Charles ensured that teams were using proper safety procedures and remained hydrated, while also keeping alert for signs of heat exhaustion. A secondary concern is foreign objects lodged in the eyes. But EMTs were also responsible for for people who, when pushed to their limits, may exhibit symptoms of preexisting conditions.

In order to keep the EMTs themselves protected, they were not allowed to cross into "the hot zone", which was literally a line drawn in the sand. If an emergency situation arose, it was necessary to get the individual through to the "cold-zone" for additional treatment. Everyone is also equipped with personal protective equipment, such as shoe covers, gloves and glasses. To compensate for these less than ideal working environments and the urgent demand for competent and certified EMTs, people such as Charles were earning 7-8,000/a month.

"In my opinion, from what I've seen, it's probably going to be a couple years or so before they really stop needing people there." Despite the claims that the oil is dissipating quickly, the truth of the matter is that the oil is seeping underneath the visible surface. "You can still see it underneath... it's kind of like an iceberg; what you can see is only a fraction of what's really there. And as far as on the beaches, there is quite a bit that is being covered up."

 
*Boot Camp training = intensive on-campus education with daily lectures and hands-on skills labs.
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