Local EMS Trained to Use Mobile Hospital

Houston now has another tool for emergency response in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. The Houston Fire Department's EMS unit is being trained how to use what can best be described as a mobile hospital. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the new field hospital includes many of the creature comforts you'd expect in the Medical Center.

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About 50 Houston firefighters are part of what's known as a Medical Surge Team, a group that can assemble a new, 4500 square-foot field hospital in a matter of hours. It's a critical tool for an area that has seen natural disasters, like Tropical Storm Allison, cripple local hospitals with flood water. Blake White is the Deputy Chief of the Houston EMS and says the mobile hospital includes most of the things you'd see at a regular hospital.

"It's got air conditioning. It's got negative pressure which allows us to isolate areas in the tent itself if we've got people we're concerned with as far as contamination or infectious disease. It's got showers. It's got basically all the needs of a hospital."

While the city has quite a few back-ups if one or two hospitals are knocked out, White says surrounding counties may not have that luxury, which makes the new field hospital useful for them.

"We can go to nine different counties, respond, set up a surge tent or a field hospital. In the Houston area typically if we have one hospital that's affected by an event, we could probably handle that through our hospital system that we have in place here. If we have an event that occurs in Wharton, Waller or Matagorda County, one hospital affected by an event could be huge for them and we can respond with our equipment and assist that county in dealing with that incident."

White sees the field hospital as insurance when the state or federal government can't provide timely assistance in the event of a disaster.

"It's the time-frame that's the great part about this. The state, if we call for regional assistance or state assistance we're typically looking at least 24 or 48 hours and now we have the capability of building it within a matter of five or six hours, having equipment up and dealing with these patients."

The field hospital will be staffed by doctors and nurses from area hospitals coordinated through the Regional Hospital Preparedness Council. The EMS Medical Surge Team is expected to train with the new mobile facility again next week.

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