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SVG first responders assist Dominica

SVG first responders assist Dominica

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A first responder medical and emergency communications team from SVG assisted the community of Wesley, located in the north-eastern part of Dominica, from September 25 to October 10, 2017.

The main purpose was to establish communications from that community, as well as serving the medical needs of Wesley and nearby villages.

The team, led by Dr Masada James, also included RN Venisha Sutherland, pharmacist and radio operator Calvert Gibson (j88DX), Lawson Bonadie (J88NLL), and emergency communications specialist Donald De Riggs (J88CD).

Once we set foot on the ground, we proceeded to Dr James’ family home, which had lost its roof, ensured that all was well healthwise, then made a bee line to the Wesley Health Centre to proffer medical assistance.

Having been born and raised in Wesley, “Massy,” as he is known to everyone, was a welcome figure. As soon as we arrived, we discovered that the lone generator had recently malfunctioned at the health centre, which operates 24/7 like a mini hospital. Team member Lawson Bonadie opened his tool bag and immediately set to work and within minutes had the generator up and running, much to the satisfaction of the nurses and patients who needed electricity to nebulize. It is an aging generator which we had to repair on two other occasions to correct a wiring problem that was causing a fire on the engine, the other being a fuel line repair. We will be seeking help for a 5,000 watt generator for that facility.

The medical team shared their supplies with the Wesley Health Centre, as well as neighbouring health clinics.

Dr “Massy” also coordinated the deployment of over 20 Dominican medical doctors who work in the US and who volunteered to do community service and who, in some cases, jointly saw over 100 patients per day. At the Wesley Health Centre an average of 20 persons see the doctor daily. According to Dr James, our arrival was timely, because there were three recorded deaths in the Wesley area due to “Maria” trauma, because of lack of medical attention, while in other cases, untreated wounds became infected and needed immediate intervention to avoid amputation.

On Sunday, October 1, the entire SVG team, assisted by villagers, cleared about one mile of the main road leading into Wesley from the Douglas Charles Airport (formerly known and still fondly referred to as the Melville Hall airport), making access through that village less hazardous and easier for trucks bringing relief supplies.

Lawson Bonadie, who is also a small engine specialist, repaired water pumps and generators for local residents, while the generators provided by E D Layne and Sons and Sanjay Jiandani was used to charge smart phones, sat phone, the car battery running the radios, tablets and provide temporary lighting at night.

We also assisted Northern Broadcasting Service (NBS FM) in getting back on air. Most of that radio station’s equipment was damaged when they lost their roof and needs to be replaced. This is the only FM station in that part of the island and needs to be on the air to help the public be aware of the distribution of water and food supplies, as well as keeping them updated with the weather.

Operating from a car, the radio operators established and maintained communications with stations within and outside Dominica and in the absence of telephone or Internet service, ham radio was the only form of coms with the outside world. We coordinated the arrival of medical and food supplies and relayed messages to other stations in Dominica when propagation was poor and when our station had the best reception, due to our antenna system.

Those who enabled this relief mission are many, but we must single out a few for notable mention: RUBIS, who provided SVGAIR with fuel to make two round trips. Paul Gravel of SVGAIR, for making his aircraft available, and all the pilots who transported us or brought the additional medical and food supplies. DASCO, for pharmaceutical supplies. Our team brought its own food for two weeks, but had to share and it was depleted in a few days; here again, ham radio played an important role in requesting additional food for our team and the household taking care of our nutritional needs.

BOSVG provided food for the responder team, as well as testing a new transceiver in the field, used in their emergency communications network. The equipment performed flawlessly and did not require much power to operate effectively with a good antenna.

Thanks is also extended to the James and Reefe families, who accommodated us and prepared our daily meals in Dominica. We also learned how to smoke chicken and manicou to preserve them in the absence of a fridge. The radio operators in SVG played a vital role in organizing the medical supplies and food and must also be commended for their supporting roles. This was phase one; phase two will focus on rebuilding three homes already identified for assistance.

(Report submitted by: Donald A De Riggs, October 10, 2017)

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