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Indiana task force reflects on response to Sandy

Eric Eshelman with Lakes The Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force works wake Hurricane Sandy. November 4 2012. | Phoprovided~Sun-Times Media

Eric Eshelman with the Lakes of The Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force works in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. November 4, 2012. | Photo provided~Sun-Times Media

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At a glance

Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 1 Task Force members who responded to Hurricane Sandy:

Oct. 27 deployment

Mark Baumgardner Jr., Crown Point Fire Rescue

Erik Schmitt, Crown Point Fire Rescue

John Sarver, Crown Point Fire Rescue

Joe Oparka, Superior Ambulance

Dale Waters, Superior Ambulance

Tom Bettenhausen, Superior Ambulance

Eric Eshelman, Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force

Brian Beach, St. John Fire Department

Don Strom, St. John Fire Department

Nov. 2 deployment

David Bowman, South Bend

Patricia Call, La Grange, Ill.

John Case, Chicago

Keith Cox, Lafayette

Blake Graham, Lafayette

Joseph Creed, New Lenox, Ill.

Bradley Hoaks, Otterbein, Ind.

Robert Lake, Crown Point

Bob Sur, Crown Point

Gene McIntosh, Cassopolis, Mich.

Laura McManimen, Dyer

Tina Molden, Brook

Kiaya Perkins, Pine Village

Terry Scripter, Rensselaer

Robert Searcy, Lake Station

Ian Spindler, Niles, Mich.

Mike Loughmiller, Highland.

Additionally, Prompt Ambulance Service sent these responders on Oct. 27:

Katie Allen, Hobart

Oscar Baca, Crown Point

Lindsey Gollnick, Valparaiso

Shannon Gollnick, Valparaiso

Angelina Hanson, Griffith

Marcus Jones, Gary

Stephen Kobitz, Portage

Dayna Lund, Schererville

Harold Marsh, Merrillville

Tina Meschede, Hebron

Steven Mustain, Munster

Thomas Roush, Portage

Brandon Smith, Dyer

Stephen Wise, Porter

Jeffrey Zielinski, Calumet City, Ill.

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:37AM



Members of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 1 Task Force and the American Medical Response team put their specialized training to use in joining emergency responders on the East Coast in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy disaster.

The deployed paramedics from Northwest Indiana have trained in mock disaster events to prepare for a real-life scenario where local responders would need help from outside sources.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a lot of people. I’ll hold it close to me forever. I gained a confidence in our team and in our state,” said Tom Bettenhausen, operations manager for Superior Ambulance and the Mobile Service Unit commander for the District 1 team. The District 1 Task Force is made up of 400 firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics from Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties.

As commander, Bettenhausen worked with New Jersey’s Ocean County and Brick Township emergency responders to coordinate his team’s work.

“We were extremely successful in the completion of our mission — beginning to end,” Bettenhausen said.

His team members were involved in responding too routine 911 calls, shuttling patients to hospitals and shelters, and helping to evacuate the Ocean City (N.J.) Hospital once the storm cleared.

“We got there about a half an hour before the worst of the storm hit (Oct. 29),” Bettenhausen said. The group had to ride out the hurricane in a bunker at the Atlantic City Airport. Once they were briefed and the storm passed, the team hit the ground running. The devastation they found was shocking.

“There were houses in the middle of street, children’s toys and family belongings strewn everywhere. You knew you were looking at people’s lives completely ruined,” Bettenhausen said.

In one neighborhood, the water was almost 2 miles inland of where it would normally be.

“When the fireman pointed that out … I realized at that point the true magnitude of that devastation,” Bettenhausen said.

The sheer magnitude of a disaster is something mock training exercises can never fully capture, according to the responders. Training makes possible the all-important coordination and communication. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought to light the need for coordinated response, participants say.

During Hurricane Katrina that coordination had improved some, and with each disaster it gets better. Responders take each event and use it as a learning tool, assessing just how, next time, things can run more effectively.

“Whenever you have a major disaster like this, like 9/11, like Katrina — of that magnitude — it is not something we do on a normal day-to-day basis. The command structure has to grow to accommodate the disaster,” said Greg DeLor, chief of Crown Point Fire Rescue.

DeLor said the hands-on experience gained by local personnel responding to a major disaster is invaluable and it does not cost local taxpayers. When a team is tapped, the state pays for necessities like fuel, and the state later bills the state to which it provides the services. The federal government reimburses local units for manpower hours and other expenses incurred during the emergency.

Russell Shirley, Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 1 commander and director of the Porter County Emergency Management Agency, agrees. While Indiana may not see an actual hurricane, the potential for tornados, floods, fires and accidents or other significant disasters exists.

Task Force members who respond to an emergency elsewhere benefit from the opportunity to use their skills honed during practice in real life and bring that knowledge back home with them. In the process, it helps them improve their ability to respond the next time.

Shirley said Hurricane Sandy was the District 1 Task Force’s the first opportunity to respond to an out-of-state disaster.

For Merrillville-based Prompt Ambulance, this was the company’s third deployment as part of the American Medical Response network, Ronald Donahue, communications director for Prompt Ambulance Service, said. The company also responded to Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

“Everybody is really being more proactive. Every time we do it, the country, ourselves as a whole, we get a little bit better,” Donahue said.

Bettenhausen said people always seem to wonder whether the time and money spent on a group like the District 1 Task Force is worth it.

“I think we just proved it is. Not only to ourselves but to our fellow countrymen. God forbid anything ever does happen. Here you go, here in Indiana we will be there to help you no matter what,” he said.



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