Friday, January 14, 2011

Busy Week in EDS

Sometimes in Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) we see a major fire or other incident that goes from routine to something a bit more substantial.  For us we classify those as “major responses”.  These responses take more volunteer support, more feeding and generally more overall resources to handle than our average response.  This past week we not only see one, but THREE major responses!
The chain of events started on Sunday morning with a 5 alarm fire in Charter School in West Philadelphia.  The fire that started in the basement quickly spread throughout the entire building, bringing in 5 alarms worth of equipment totaling more than 150 fire and emergency personnel.  Our EDS Canteen was on scene within the first hour and provided hot drinks, gloves, hand warmers and snacks to personnel for more than 6 hours.

On Monday the second major response turned out to be far more severe than Sunday’s, as fire quickly engulfed a 5 story apartment building in West Philadelphia (less than 10 blocks from the previous days fire).  The 90 unit apartment building had fire quickly spreading throughout as firefighters worked to contain the blaze.  More than 100 people took shelter in a neighboring High School, before being relocated because the smoke from the fire began entering that building as well.
Our EDS canteen arrived on scene less than 30 minutes from the initial call and began serving both firefighters and evacuees from the apartments.  EDS staff on scene coordinated with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Red Cross to setup the reception center to assist the evacuated residents.  Roughly 2 hours into the response EDS had 3 units (a canteen and two support units) and 8 personnel working between the scene and the reception center serving both residents and emergency personnel.
Our team was on scene for more than 9 hours that first night and served more than 180 dinner meals between the scene and the shelter.  The Salvation Army volunteers provided feeding at the shelter sight throughout the night with hot and cold drinks, snacks and other items.  Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) team members working at the shelter provided counseling to more than 70 individuals and had prayer with at least seven of the residents directly.  It was a very long and cold night as temperatures fell into the low 20’s that evening with a wind chill in the teens.
On Tuesday (1/11) we continued to provide service to the shelter residents.  About 20 residents spent that first night in the makeshift Locke School shelter and EDS volunteers provided breakfast and snacks to them and shelter workers that day.  A service center was then setup by OEM to assist with initial assistance from the Red Cross and Salvation Army EDS provided lunch to the 120 people that came seeking assistance.
A request came in the early afternoon for dinner and we were hopeful then that this may be the last meal needed at the shelter so we could begin ramping down our operations….that was not to be.  As dinner was being cooked another fire was dispatched this time in the Kensington section of Philly, and EDS crew were quickly called to that scene as well. The fire on Tuesday in a vacant warehouse building quickly spread to 4 alarms and due to smoke and flying embers caused the evacuation of nearby homes.  Complicating this already massive response was the second big winter storm of the season, predicted to dump 5-8 inches on the Delaware Valley. 
As the shelter operation ramped down and the last few individuals were placed in hotel for the week, our services too came to a close. Volunteers and equipment were redeployed to the fire scene in Kensington to assist there with feeding and hydration services.
Wednesday morning brought more tragedy as EDS responded to a seemingly routine house fire in North Philly, only to find that a mother and 3 children had died in the blaze.  EDS team members provided ESC to neighbors and family members that had come to the scene.  These types of fires prove to us time and again that nothing is ever “routine”.
As we continue to ramp up our recovery efforts for the 118 individuals from Monday’s apartment fire, we thank the Lord for getting everyone out safely.  At the same time we pray for the family of Wednesday’s fire and the grieving they are doing for their loved ones lost. 

Volunteer Sue Guyman serving chief's

We like to say in EDS that no two days are ever the same.  Many hours of service by dedicated volunteers helped to make our efforts this week possible and a sincere THANK YOU goes out to them all.  We are proud to serve in this unique service ministry of The Salvation Army and continue to do so through disaster big and small, with tragedy and miracles, and even in the unwelcome snowfall that happens sometimes.
Will keep you posted as our recovery operations unfold, so until next time….

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