Toledo disaster response team returns from California wildfire deployment

OH-1 DMAT members pictured here with other responders in Butte County, California (Photo: submitted).

TOLEDO, Ohio (WNWO) -- Camp Fire in Butte County, California is being called the states most deadly wildfire to date.

One of the groups that helped during that fire, came from here in Toledo.

The OH-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) has responded to a number of disaster scenes, including several hurricanes this year, but this is the first time they helped with a wildfire.

"Relate it to if you lose all of your possessions in a house fire and your house is burnt to the ground and you have nothing. That's what they're experiencing," said Gerald Debien, a retired Toledo firefighter and logistics specialist for OH-1 DMAT.

The OH-1 DMAT members are ready to pick up and head to a disaster scene in a moments notice.

"We just wait for the time that we're alerted and you know, bags are packed ready to go and as soon as it happens we're ready to go within 24 hours," said Darcy Suwinski, OH-1 DMAT registered nurse.

The team was deployed to Butte County in Northern California for 8 days to offer medical assistance at three different shelters around the area that faced the most destruction.

"When we asked them for their information, when they came to see us and they gave you that address of Paradise the response was, I don't have a home. Some gave the address of the shelter because they didn't have a home to go back to," said Suwinski.

Camp Fire ravaged over 18,000 structures and spanned over 150,000 acres.

To put that into perspective, that would take over and destroy most of the Greater Toledo area.

For Debien, what stuck with him the most were the stories he heard from the victims.

"A teacher had to put half the class, her class, in her car and they had to drive through the flames to escape out of Paradise and that really stuck with me," said Debien. "It was a 14-year-old young man, he had a little brother that was 8 or 9 and you could tell that they were traumatized, they didn't know what was going on, they had been in the shelter for about 10 days when we arrived."

For Suwinski, the emotional support was just as impactful as the medical assistance they provided.

"Especially in this situation these people just they've lost everything and just sitting there and holding their hand and talking to them it was just something that I enjoyed," said Suwinski.

When they're not responding to disasters, Suwinski works as an RN at Mercy Health's Sylvania Emergency Room and Debien teaches fire and EMS at Four County Career Center.


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