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April 27, 2013

When disaster strikes, volunteers are ready

The Daily Star

---- — It can be said that there are two types of people in any emergency — the ones running away from danger, and the ones running toward it. 

We witnessed this recently in Boston and in West, Texas. Even as survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and the fertilizer plant explosion ran for their lives, other people were heading deeper into danger with no thought other than to save lives. 

In Boston, police and firefighters were joined by race volunteers and bystanders in sifting through the gory aftermath of the April 15 bombing. 

In West, Texas, a team of volunteer firefighters was responding to a fire at a fertilizer plant when a devastating explosion, so strong that it left a crater in the ground, was touched off. 

Of the 14 bodies recovered from the site of the West Chemical and Fertilizer Co., 11 were first responders, according to the Dallas Morning News. 

The town of West has a population of around 3,000 people — a lot like Otego, Walton or Schoharie. 

And much like the firefighters in West, for whom the fertilizer plant explosion was a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy, our local first responders don’t necessarily face the same daily risks that police and firefighters in, say, Boston typically do. 

But when an emergency does happen, the risks are just as real, and just as life-threatening, whether it’s a small town or a huge city. And the bravery and dedication shown by the volunteers who run toward danger, rather than away from it, can’t be overstated. 

And after the danger of an emergency has passed, there is still much work to be done. For local emergency service coordinators, the floods that followed Irene and Lee are still generating reports, planning and after-action discussions aimed at improving the outcomes for the next emergency. 

“The biggest thing that could help us is better communication all the way around, whether it be radio communication, whether it be cellular communication, written communication,” Delaware County EMS coordinator Steve Hood told The Daily Star. 

In today’s mobile world, “communication” means a lot of different things. It may be traditional means, such as bulletins going out over the radio or television. Or it may mean some new approaches, such as text messages, or automated phone calls targeting any cellphone within the area. 

Staying nimble across all these platforms is a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity. And it speaks highly of our emergency services officials that these processes continue to be examined and refined. 

The recent incidents in West and Boston were terrifying, and the floods of 2011 were devastating. But it is comforting to know that, when disaster does strike, we have men and women standing by who are ready to risk their lives to save the rest of us.