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Local Para​​medic’s First Deployment is to Help Family, Friends, & Neighbors After Hurricane Maria: Now He Says, “I’m NDMS for Life!”

October 31, 2017 | By: HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response 

Rafael Baucage has lived his entire life in Aguadilla, a community of 60,000 on the west coast of Puerto Rico that, before Hurricane Maria, was best known for its beautiful beaches and its very popular Parque Acuático Las Cascadas, the only aquatic theme park in the Caribbean.

Post Hurricane Maria, his beloved community is in shambles. Rafael’s’ home was located in the middle of the hardest hit area in Aguadilla. More than three feet of water seeped through the walls of his home, which he shares with his wife Maria and their 15-year-old twins.

On September 22, two days after Hurricane Maria struck, Rafael was able to locate his NDMS administrative officer. His first question was, “Are you ok?” His second question: “What can I do? I’m here. I’m ok. My wife and children are ok, and I’m ready to help.”

An image of the National Disaster Medical System uniform sleeve  

The hurricane marked Rafael’s first deployment as a paramedic for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). Although he has been a member of NDMS’ Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) since 2009, this is the first time his team has been deployed to a federal disaster zone, and it just happens to be in their own backyard.

Since his deployment, Rafael has been doing what he is most passionate about: working as a paramedic on an ambulance. Four days ago, Rafael found a patient outside unconscious just around the corner from where his team set up a medical area on the town’s main street. “I got the doctors and nurses who stabilized him and then I transported him to Centro Medico in San Juan. It was my birthday that day, and helping that patient was my best birthday gift.”

NDMS team working on a patient  on an ambulance  

For the last three weeks, Raphael has helped many patients, often transferring them down a mountain and across debris-filled streets to Centro Medico more than 90 miles away or bringing patients from his community back to the medical tents set up on main street. During these transports he sees people from his neighborhood doing everything they can: cutting up trees, removing debris, repairing their homes and cleaning the streets. Everyone is working together to help each other and make things better.

Although as awful as this storm is, Rafael says serving his community with NDMS has been a great experience for him. “The doctors, nurses, and EMTs on my DMAT are great.” According to Rafael, the best part about serving on the team is that he got to work with NDMS team members from California and New Jersey. These folks have been deployed to many disasters, and have a great deal of experience that they to share.

This may be Rafael’s first deployment, but he says: “I’m NDMS for life! I’m so glad I have this knowledge for my future job and deployments are one way to get even better at what I do.”

Rafael’s story is just one of many from NDMS responders helping patients get the care that they need and supporting the health care system as it recovers from Hurricane Maria. There are many great ways for both medical and non-medical professionals to help communities in the wake of a disaster, but the best time to choose to serve is before a disaster strikes. Are you up for the challenge? Take a few minutes to learn how you can help the next time disaster strikes, visit Joining NDMS

DMAT team member signs the Puerto Rico flag