Bias was at the Convention Center, like most of the region's and thousands of other emergency responders, for EMS EXPO and scheduled to head over to the dome early Sunday morning. His buddy from way back, NREMT's Executive Director Bill Brown, decided to go with him, along with a group of six Acadian paramedics and some ambulances. Their first job was to help the National Guard triage and check in those special- needs patients.
"The city and the state believed that the dome would take in about 200 special-needs patients," says Bias. "But by the end of the day we had 400 or 500 of these folks, plus a couple hundred more who needed to be transported to hospitals in the area. But for some reason, all the other providers in the area starting leaving-they shut down about 4 p.m. on Sunday and ceased transporting. We still had about 100 or so patients that needed to go to higher-level facilities. I had asked eight or 10 of our people from surrounding areas-Houma, Covington, Baton Rouge-to come and pick up some of our units and take them out of harm's way. When they got there, this Homeland Security guy came up to me and said he was commandeering my people and my ambulances to transport those patients."
It was 10 p.m. before they finished and the Acadian "volunteers" were able to head for home, by which time the wind had started to pick up, making big box rigs a danger on the road. "We were very concerned about them getting home safe," says Bias, who kept in touch with them by cell phone. "They all made it back by the grace of God."
INSIDE THE SUPERDOME
Bias, Brown and their small team, and two remaining ambulances parked outside, proceeded to set up a provisional Aid Station outside the company's existing first aid closet at the Superdome. They fenced off a clinic area with a few free-standing steel barricades in "an area no bigger than 10' x 20', if that, when you had the door open," with supplies that consisted of "basically some ACLS drugs and bandages," says Bias. People from the general population would come up to the Aid Station's barricade and ask for what they needed. "But we didn't have much." Among those who found the Aid Station were nine medics who had been stranded at the EXPO from South Dakota, Ohio, New York and the Army, and got themselves to the Superdome for shelter. They volunteered to join the Acadian team, and Bias was happy to have them.
As for special equipment, the EMS team had Acadian's two golf-cart-like transport vehicles, called "Gators," used for football games. These would come in handy in the following days. Eventually they were also able to get their hands on several cots from the National Guard, which they lined up in the Aid Station as well. They had not brought special radios or medical equipment with them, since everyone expected they'd go home as soon as the storm quit, like they had the year before during Hurricane Ivan, says Bias. But that didn't happen as everyone knows now. For more, see the sidebar In the Dome.
MADE THE DIFFERENCE
As luck would have it, Acadian's cell phones, with the Lafayette area code, continued to work throughout the storm, enabling Bias to remain in contact with sources outside the area-though not with New Orleansbased officials in the dome or the city. In addition, the radios in their ambulances were able to communicate with Acadian's dispatch center in Lafayette. Through these channels, arrangements were made for relief and supplies to be flown in on Tuesday by helicopter.
When Judice arrived, along with IVs, oxygen and albuterol treatments, AccuCheks and insulin, he also brought a portable communications center borrowed from the sheriff's office of Lafayette's neighboring town New Iberia; satellite phones from Bell South to enable communications with the outside world; and radios so the EMS team could communicate among themselves, calling for a Gator to pick somebody up and bring them to the Aid Station, for example.
But Judice soon realized that while people were still coming in, no one was being evacuated: "I wanted to know who was in charge here. I'd just flown in on a helicopter; surely we could evacuate people by helicopter."
Bias took him down to the landing zone, where DHH had their command center. But they were focused only on evacuating patients from state hospitals, which were now surrounded by water.