Arlington firefighter rounds up aid for Haiti

  • Thu Jan 28th, 2010 10:14pm
  • News

By Katya Yefimova Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — In the past two weeks, Chris Tompkins traveled to hell and back.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Snohomish County Fire District 1 firefighter and paramedic created the International Medical Assistance Team and rounded up volunteers to fly to the country to help.

They were five medics from Fire District 1, three medics from other agencies and one pediatrician.

Tompkins, 42, of Arlington, found a private plane to take them to Haiti on Jan. 18. They landed in Jacmel, a coastal town southwest of the capital. They heard people in the area were not getting help. Planes and helicopters carrying volunteer groups were buzzing all around them.

They met a Canadian medical crew and learned that they were setting up a field hospital in the town of Leogane: a 12-by-12-foot tent and a few shade shelters.

They flew to Leogane, set up a medical station and got to work.

On that first hot, humid day, people from the nearby camp trickled to their tent, hauling people in wheelbarrows and carrying the injured in their arms. A girl with a fractured pelvis was brought on a motorcycle.

The medics treated about 150 people. Fifteen of them had to be taken back to the Canadian field hospital, where a rudimentary surgical room had been set up. At night, Tompkins watched the enormous, clear Caribbean sky light up with stars. He could hear people in the camp singing.

When the sun came up, they moved to a different camp and saw more patients. The pediatrician revived a small child who couldn’t breathe.

Several days later, most of the group had to return to the United States. Three others were able to stay behind, treating more people.

Tompkins and his team rode a bus to Port-au-Prince, where a private jet took them to Florida. They took a commercial flight back to Seattle.

The homecoming was emotional, Tompkins said. TV crews at the airport caught him off-guard.

He was glad to be back home with his family. But his work in Haiti is not done.

Tompkins is trying to keep his medical team going, and another group is expected to travel to Haiti soon.

About 75 people volunteer for the team, and Tompkins is using social networking to attract more people. For him, the devastation in Haiti is not just words.

“The scale of what happened there, it’s beyond the realm of your imagination,” he said.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, kyefimova@heraldnet.com.

Aid for Haiti

To get involved or make a donation, go to your Facebook account and search for “IMAT.”