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Articles / 2014

Ojai man honored for his response to Missouri tornado

Ventura County Star
By Tom Kisken

DAVID YAMAMOTO/SPECIAL TO THE STAR Ed Pulido, a nurse at Community Memorial Hospital, receives a plaque from Daniel Wall, manager of the Ventura County Emergency Preparedness Office, recognizing his work during the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Patients were everywhere in the hospital, on the floor, slumped in chairs, sprawled on gurneys.
A tornado nearly 1 mile wide ripped through Joplin, Mo., in May 2011. Ed Pulido, an emergency room nurse from Ojai visiting Joplin for two family graduations, wanted to help. So he assisted an ambulance crew, rode with them to the hospital and started doing whatever needed to be done.

“We started pulling the most critical patients to the lobby because they were the ones who were going to be transferred,” said Pulido who works at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura. He’s also part of a Ventura County Medical Reserve Corps that responds to medical emergencies.

Pulido, who administered care to wounds, assessed patients and started IVs, was honored Tuesday at a Master the Disaster workshop in Camarillo hosted by the Ventura County Emergency Medical Services Agency. As part of a preparedness program that drew more than 400 people, H. Dwight Douglas described the tornado Pulido witnessed.

“It was sitting churning up everything in sight,” he said of a storm that killed 161 people and destroyed one hospital. He showed a picture of an empty hospital entrance at Joplin’s Freeman Hospital West, part of a health care system where Douglas is general counsel.

“This entire driveway was covered by stretchers and injured people,” Douglas said.

Douglas spoke from the Missouri hospital, his picture shown at the top of a screen that documented not only the disaster’s plus-200 mph winds but the force of the emergency response.

In 12 hours, 22 lifesaving surgeries were performed, including a girl impaled on a steel rod. A young man at a community theater was stuck in the head by a concrete block, breaking his jaw and distorting his features so his parents couldn’t recognize him. He became one of more than 50 John and Jane Does at the hospital.

“It was two weeks before we were able to identify this young man,” Douglas said.

The disaster brought lessons for all trauma hospitals, like the need to have multiple helicopter landing pads, Douglas said. Health care communities need to assess morgue capacity. They need to develop tracking systems to identify the ventilators and other equipment that accompany patients transferred to other hospitals.

People need to understand if leases on building space include clauses that cover facilities destroyed by a tornado. Good Samaritan laws offer liability protection to doctors and others offering care in a medical disaster, he said.

The annual workshop was designed to offer advice to help groups in Ventura County prepare for a disaster, maybe a large-scale earthquake, that would push systems to the max. Speakers focused on everything from a shooting combined with a structure fire to Hurricane Sandy.

The 2012 super storm left cars parked three blocks from the ocean buried in sand in New York’s Nassau County. It diverted emergency responders who learned their own homes were suddenly underwater. It cut power for weeks, flooded sewage plants and caused health officers to emphasize that boiling ocean water tainted by waste doesn’t sterilize it.

“It’s still ocean water and sewage,” said Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, health commissioner for Nassau County. “It’s just hot.”

Sandy damaged 30,000 homes in the county, destroying 5,000 or more. But no one in the county died directly because of the storm.

“It’s partially lucky but partially not,” Eisenstein said, hammering the importance of treating potential disasters as real ones.

“Complacency is dangerous,” he said.

Communities need a disaster plan, like the 120-hour timeline that Eisenstein followed. They can’t be diverted because the previous year’s storm, Hurricane Irene, missed the county, he said.

And if they don’t follow the plan, there will be consequences.

“People would have drowned,” Eisenstein said. “People would have died.”