Tribal Officers and Bureau of Indian Affairs Agents Support Hospital Evacuation in Puerto Rico

10/11/2017

For hospitals, electricity is life. On October 5, the Ryder Hospital in Humacao, Puerto Rico, was suddenly without power after its temporary generator failed for the third and final time. The lives of 47 patients -- including five with critical conditions -- were suddenly in danger. FEMA sprang into action and began an evacuation of the hospital. That’s when Interior’s Quick Response Team Four got the call.

One of Interior’s emergency response teams to mobilize after this year’s hurricanes, Quick Response Team Four was made up of tribal public safety officers and Bureau of Indian Affairs agents. This was the first Interior team to include tribal public safety officers for a FEMA-led response. The team responded to the Seminole Tribe in Florida following Hurricane Irma and then after Maria hit, 14 officers voluntarily reassigned to Puerto Rico.

A group of men in casual police clothes pose in two rows on a runway in front of a plane.

For the hospital evacuation, the BIA/tribal team became part of a large and unified rescue operation with multiple Puerto Rican ambulances and a military convoy of six military vehicles. They arrived at the hospital just before the sunset. By 5 p.m., the first helicopters began landing to evacuate the most critical patients. Officers Timothy Reeves and TJ Brooster of the Quapaw Tribal Marshals and Andy Kenyon of the Choctaw Nation Tribal Police provided security for the first five helicopter medical flights and covered the security of all moving patients, hospital personnel and support teams. 

An hour later, Mike Harjo of the Comanche Nation Police with Marvin Jefferson and Larry Masters of the Choctaw Nation Tribal Police took over the assignment. Quick Response Team Four provided security for a convoy escort including the final patients and medical staff who rode in the military ambulances with the patients. After a 10-hour operation through a dark night, all patients were relocated without harm.

Officer Larry Masters called the operation an amazing accomplishment. Not only was the operation successful, but team members  also overcame language barriers and the fact that they had never met or trained together before this mission in Puerto Rico. The FEMA section responsible for health and human services later recognized Quick Response Team Four for the outstanding performance during the evacuation. Quick Response Team Four returned home this week.

The Department of the Interior currently has 128 personnel supporting FEMA mission assignments in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. An additional 69 personnel are deployed in support of Interior-led response and recovery efforts there. Moreover, 240 Interior personnel  remain at their home stations in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Members of Quick Response Team Four:
Michael Harjo - Comanche Nation Police
Lee Lynch - Comanche Nation Police
Larry Masters - Choctaw Nation Tribal Police
Andy Kenyon - Choctaw Nation Tribal Police
Marvin Jefferson - Choctaw Nation Tribal Police
Zachary Hendrix - Choctaw Nation Tribal Police
Thomas Brewster - Quapaw Tribal Marshals
Timothy Reeves - Quapaw Tribal Marshals
Travis Eby - Quapaw Tribal Marshals
Jared Robinson - Wyandotte Nation Tribal Police
Adrian Jim - Bureau of Indian Affairs
Albert DeAlba - Bureau of Indian Affairs
Nicholas Miller - Bureau of Indian Affairs
Stacey Larocque - Bureau of Indian Affairs
Robert Mathis (Team Leader) - Bureau of Indian Affairs

Two policemen and a woman help an elderly woman walk across a parking lot to a tent.