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Disaster shows importance of mutual aid

The power and importance of mutual aid agreements were clearly shown in the response to the Taum Sauk disaster, local emergency officials say.

David Tetrault, director of the St. Francois County Ambulance, said when they arrived on scene to provide assistance, the emergency services were already being stretched handling the five injured people.

“If this had happened during the summer when that campground was full, there is no doubt in my mind there would have been a thousand people hurt or killed,” Tetrault said.

“Their emergency services would have been quickly overwhelmed, any county’s would. That is why we have to have strong mutual aid agreements in place. In a major casualty incident, you’re going to need the help of surrounding counties.”

St. Francois County sent one ambulance crew down to the scene as well as command vehicles and transported three Air Evac employees to the site as well. The air transport service had been asked to provide three helicopters to transport the children of a family whose home was in the path of the 1.5 billion-gallon flood from the Taum Sauk plant, but with visibility down, the emergency air transport service wasn’t able to fly.

Two regular crew members, Robert Kiefer and Dorrinda Barron, and a new employee who was undergoing orientation joined the St. Francois County Ambulance crew.

&#8220It was a good thing they did go,” said Steven Pounds, with St. Francois County Ambulance.

The extra hands allowed them to transport two patients at once. Ordinarily you wouldn’t want to do that, Kiefer explained. You would transport the victims one at a time. But with the extra personnel it was possible to safely transport and keep two patients stable.

Kiefer could not discuss specifics on the condition of the children, but did say they were hypothermic and in critical condition, which was widely reported already in most media. They were taken to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

David Tetrault, director of St. Francois County Ambulance, said one child’s condition has improved to serious and another continues to be serious. One child remains in critical condition.

Kiefer’s crew transported the two older children, who he said were in more serious condition. The 7-month-old baby was transported at a later time, but not by helicopter as reported in the media, he said.

&#8220There wasn’t enough visibility to allow it,” he said.

Tetrault also confirmed that.

Kiefer and Tetrault said you could see the path the floodwaters traveled, and it was an amazing sight.

&#8220Trees were just flattened over a half-mile area where the water traveled,” he said. &#8220The water was over the road 12 to 15 foot.”

&#8220I could only imagine what the people who went through the tsunami suffered,” Tetrault said.

There was a truck washed off one road sitting in a muddy, flattened area. Another trucker, who drives that route frequently, had gone up to the house to see if the family needed help, only to find the house completely gone except for the foundation. He eventually stumbled on the Park Ranger in a cedar tree and he and another firefighter helped get the man down.

Fire Department personnel were able to quickly rescue the rest of the family from the cold, wet conditions.

It was the family of the Park Superintendent whose house was washed away in the sudden flood.

&#8220It was almost completely gone, except for its foundation,” Pounds said.

Seeing that, the emergency personnel all agreed it was miraculous that anyone survived at all.

&#8220I have seen some flooding, but I was awestruck when I saw the damage here,” Kiefer said.

“You could actually see where the water had gone up the hill something like 20 foot,” Tetrault said.

Kiefer and Tetrault had nothing but praise for the efforts taking place at the Ellington Hospital, the Lesterville Fire Department and other emergency services.

&#8220They really did a good job, they put their heart into it,” Tetrault said.

&#8220They are a small hospital, but everyone was working together, they worked their rear-ends off. It was awesome teamwork.”

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