Disaster Medical Assistant Team
Fire Chief, Satellite Beach, FL (Retired)
DMAT Florida 6, Team Commander
Leading COVID-19 related missions in Washington State, Arizona, Montana, and Texas, Don Hughes saw first-hand how critical community medical needs were during the pandemic. “You could see the relief on our local hospitals’ medical providers’s faces when we showed up to help. It was in that moment they knew they were not forgotten.”
These COVID-19 response missions are just a few of many National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) deployments that Don led since he became a deputy team commander in 1998 and a team commander in 2010. He has also had his boots on the ground for Hurricanes Charley, Katrina, Rita, Sandy, Harvey, Florence, and Maria and worked behind the scenes for several National Special Security Events (NSSE), such as the Bush and Obama inaugurations and the Fourth of July Celebration on the National Mall.
Which of these many deployments does Don consider the most successful? “For me, a meaningful deployment means one person was impacted. We sometimes measure success by the numbers of people we helped, but it only takes one person helped to make it worth it.”
With 34 years in public safety (fire and EMS), Don has seen and experienced a lot, but he considers his team deployments to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria as special. “When we were driving away from our deployment site in New Orleans and Puerto Rico, the local public was there with big ‘Thank You’ signs! When people are willing to do that during their time of need, you know you did something good.”
“NDMS is the unsung hero of our national response system,” states Don. “Regardless of barriers, work conditions, staffing, equipment. We make it work and for that I am proud to continue to serve.”
While all NDMS responders have different skills, they all approach their work with compassion for people who are often experiencing the worst day of their life. The combination of expertise and empathy for people and communities in the wake of disaster are what make these responders, like Don, heroes in every sense of the word.