PORTLAND, Ore. — Mike Spina has been with Portland Airport Fire & Rescue for 19 years as a paramedic and firefighter.
Around 10 years ago Spina was asked to join the National Disaster Medical System's Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which is run by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
During and after disasters and emergencies, professionals may supplement the public health and medical response at the request of the state. Members like Spina can be called into action to provide temporary medical assistance to U.S. citizens.
HHS says it deployed 99 people – including physicians, nurses, paramedics, IT specialists, public affairs specialist, and experienced command and control staff – to Camp Ashland.
Spina was notified on Feb. 1 to be ready to leave within 8 hours, on Feb. 2 he was deployed to Camp Ashland in Ashland, Nebraska just outside Omaha.
This was the third time Spina has been called upon, one was to Guam for a hurricane, but because it missed the island, he was sent back. The other was for President Trump's inauguration in 2017.
Spina spent 14 days at Camp Ashland helping with medical assistance. For the first week, he helped set up the quarantine areas as well as makeshift emergency rooms with full EMS capabilities. He was part of a larger group sent from Oregon consisting of other paramedics, emergency room doctors, pharmacists, logistics specialists and others.
"These were all people with a ton of experiences, I even felt that what I had prepared for up til this point, kind of went to the next level in working with the CDC in how they work through with the personal protective gear, work with decon(decontamination) and all that type of stuff," Spina said.
Hundreds of Americans were evacuated from Wuhan, China after the Coronavirus outbreak and flown to military bases around the U.S. Fifty-seven were sent to Camp Ashland and were put up in dorm-style housing and under mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Spina says no one at Camp Ashland was infected with the virus.
"We were basically providing medical support to people that weren't allowed to leave. We managed a few patients that were there. Things that somebody could normally go down to Walgreen's and pick up a prescription for, they're not able to do that," he said. "Most of the days were pretty much the same, we'd have one or two, sometimes three calls to the clinic and then just triage those and see if they were something simple."
For Spina, it was another learning experience in his long career as a first responder.
"Working in a system that large has just so many components to it and to be just one part of that component was a very good experience."
He said with 23 years of working as a firefighter and paramedic, he was the least senior and least experienced one on the team.
The hardest part of the trip was being away from his wife and two kids.