North Summit Fire chief deploys to Texas to aid Hurricane Harvey victims
Ken Smith joins other medical personnel in response to devastation
September 1, 2017
North Summit Fire Chief Ken Smith says he barely got any sleep last weekend once he was notified that he would likely be deployed to Texas to help victims of Hurricane Harvey as part of a Utah Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).
"We got alerted on Friday, which means: Pack your bags. You are probably going, but we don't know for sure when," Smith said. "The official call came in Tuesday morning that we were activated and I was up all night on Monday because of all of the notifications coming in."
Smith and more than 30 Utah professionals left the Salt Lake International Airport Tuesday for Dallas with the DMAT, which is a group of medical and non-medical personnel trained to provide emergency medical care during disasters or other catastrophic events. It operates under the umbrella of the federally coordinated National Disaster Medical System.
Smith, who is currently the North Summit Fire chief, spent 26 years with the Park City Fire District as an ambulance emergency medical technician and engineer. He is still an EMT instructor.
Hurricane Harvey, which formed in the Caribbean Sea in mid-August, made landfall on the Texas coast Friday, Aug. 26, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Harvey produced wind gusts of more than 100 miles per hour in areas and up to 50 inches of rain in parts of Texas, displacing thousands of residents.
In an interview with The Park Record on Thursday from an undisclosed location, Smith said he and the team were preparing for their first mission. He was unable to say where or what it would entail.
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"We just got word about 15 minutes ago," Smith said around 11:30 a.m. "Everyone on our team is incredibly upbeat and we are all excited because we have a mission. Since we have been here, we have been on 8-hour days just doing a little bit of training. We are all ready to go. We are kind of in a hurry-up-and-wait mode."
Smith said he and his fellow team members are unsure about what to expect. He said they have to be prepared to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours and capable of working in austere conditions, which could be a tent or a building that has been damaged, but is still standing.
"We bring order to chaos. It's no different than what I do for my job," Smith said. "We bring a semblance of order. It works no different than when we show up at a car crash on Interstate 80 and we are finding people hurt. We need to figure out what resources we need to care for those people."
And the people he has encountered so far, he said, have been extremely grateful. On Wednesday, the team was in Walmart getting supplies and Smith said people were "profusely thanking us for being here."
"Everyone bends over backwards to accommodate us," Smith said. "We have gotten people who are incredibly supportive and grateful for our presence. And I kind of get it. We are here to help so of course when you are at your worst and someone offers a hand you are going to be grateful."
Smith is not unfamiliar with these kinds of situations. In 2012, he responded to the devastation on the East Coast left by Hurricane Sandy when he joined a disaster response team from Arizona.
"When I went to Sandy we were never really in the devastated areas, but were providing care to others," Smith said. "But I saw the same pictures everyone else saw. I knew what people had come from. I used to describe my days there as Groundhog Day. Working 12-hour shifts, eating dinner, going to bed, trying to get some sleep in a room with 28 other people, and then waking up and doing it all over again the next morning."
Smith has committed to a 14-day deployment in Texas, but said he may be asked to extend his stay. He sounded more than willing to do so.
"I'm not an observer of life. I am a participant. I always watched that show Emergency! when I was younger and knew that was what I wanted to do. I found that I really like the whole environment," Smith said. "Sometimes you are helping when you donate money. But, you know for sure doing this that you are helping someone.
"I just get a get a sense of personal accomplishment from being involved in the effort and that's why I'm here," he said.