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Medical teams on standby to go to New York, D.C., Somerset County

Medics here ready, willing, waiting

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

By Anita Srikameswaran, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Local medical personnel were ready and willing to lend expertise in the aftermath of the plane crashes in New York, Washington and Somerset County, but for the most part could do little yesterday but hurry up and wait.

  Volunteer lists

The Pennsylvania Medical Society is still collecting names of volunteers, preferably those with a medical background. Send an E-mail to or call (800) 228-7823.


Emergency response teams across the city gathered their resources.

"We are on standby," said Dr. Michael Allswede, an emergency medicine specialist and bioterrorism expert at the University of Pittsburgh. "We've got 10 helicopters, we have physicians out at the [international] airport, at the county airport, at the Emergency Operations Center for the county, and myself and five other physicians are sitting at Presbyterian helipad should our services become needed."

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services activated all 80 teams of the National Disaster Medical System, putting about 7,000 private physicians and support staff on alert to travel to the crash sites to lend assistance. Area hospitals prepared to make beds available should the number of seriously injured victims outstrip the medical resources of New York and Washington, D.C.

The state Department of Health alerted Pennsylvania hospitals that they could receive patients over the course of the week, though the state has not received any requests for beds from any state or federal agencies.

An alert was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking emergency rooms to be on the lookout for unusual disease patterns that could be associated with the attacks. That includes looking for people who suffered injuries from chemical and biological agents, according to the CDC.

The American Burn Association alerted Mercy Hospital for any assistance that may be needed in treating burn patients.

The hospital has five burn trauma surgeons on staff and could send two of them to the disaster scenes or treat victims here.

"We've also heard they're out of all burn supplies, so we're checking to see if we need to send supplies," said Linda Ross, Mercy spokeswoman.

Disaster medicine expert Dr. Thomas Stein, director of prehospital services at Allegheny General Hospital, said he and the Indiana County-based Special Medical Response Team are also standing by to help.

One arm of the team, which includes Dr. John Mahoney of the University of Pittsburgh, was dispatched yesterday afternoon for search and rescue operations. Hospital officials did not know whether he was heading to New York or Washington.

A variety of federal agencies can call upon the response team, which includes paramedics and nurses as well as physicians, to provide medical assistance during disasters, conduct urban search and rescue missions or back up the FBI.

Disaster medicine experts aren't the only people who signed up to help.

According to Chuck Moran, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, a hot line to gather names of physician volunteers was so busy yesterday that another line was established to handle the response.

"Not only are calls coming in from doctors, but also from many other professions with many different backgrounds," he told reporters. "Our phone lines have been ringing off the hook with more than 1,000 calls per hour ... from throughout the country."

Pittsburgh physicians who were in New York for conferences were quickly recruited onto the city's response teams, according to hospital spokesmen. Dr. Vince Mosesso, an emergency medicine specialist at UPMC, provided triage at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and trauma surgeons Dr. Juan Carlos Puyana, also of UPMC, and Dr. Aurelio Rodriguez, of Allegheny General, also treated the injured.

Air ambulance service STAT MedEvac got permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to send crews to the Somerset County airplane crash yesterday morning. Nine helicopters were within two minutes of arriving at the site when local authorities confirmed there were no survivors, so the air ambulances returned to Pittsburgh, said spokesman Albert Bolan.

Both the STAT MedEvac and LifeFlight air ambulance services were grounded at times yesterday by aviation officials but eventually were permitted to transport patients on a case-by-case basis.

Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said the county's Emergency Operations Center in Point Breeze will remain open indefinitely. The department awaited a response to an offer to send staff to assist in Somerset County.

Staff writers Christopher Snowbeck and Pamela Gaynor contributed to this report.

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