The three street medics, who are part of the Colorado Street Medics, traveled from Denver to Houston this past weekend to volunteer medical aid and assistance to those still affected by Hurricane Ike. Street medics traditionally provide medical support and emergency care in protests and demonstrations where access by EMS is restricted by police, but also provide medical care during natural disasters and other calamities.
Yesterday the three medics expanded their efforts to Galveston Island, one of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Ike. Galveston Island is currently under high security. Police check points limit people's ability to both enter and exit the island and a 6pm curfew further regulates people's mobility on the island. Despite the restricted access the street medics were allowed to pass through the check point and onto Galveston after persistent negotiations and sharing of personal information and medical credentials. The street medics are all trained first responders and one individual is a certified nurse aid.
After arriving on Galveston at approximately 4pm the three street medics made contact with leaders and supervisors of the Galveston fire department and local EMS in order to coordinate their own relief efforts within the larger framework. The street medics were informed by captains of the Bayou Vista and Galveston fire departments that their help was indeed wanted and needed. These initial encounters were very positive and helped to develop a growing sense of trust and cooperation between the groups. The supervisor of the local EMS arranged for the medics to meet with a FEMA representative.
At approximately 6pm the street medics met with an agent of FEMA named Skip, a contractor from AMR who coordinates ambulance services for the relief effort. Skip met with the street medics in a private room and began asking questions and speaking in a patronizing manner to the street medics. Skip told the street medics that he needed to make phone calls to other FEMA personnel, at which point he left the room and locked the street medics inside. Understandably concerned, the street medics asked Skip if he was calling law enforcement and were repeatedly assured that he was not. Skip told them that FEMA personnel would be arriving to further integrate the street medics into the relief network. The street medics began to feel uncomfortable with the situation and requested to be escorted off the island as it was then past the designated curfew time. They were again assured that they just needed to wait.
Shortly thereafter law enforcement arrived. Contrary to Skip's assertions there were no FEMA personnel present; they were greeted instead by the Galveston area captain of the state troopers along with another state trooper and two local police. The police began harassing and questioning the street medics. The street medics shared their information and identification and explained that they had been allowed onto the island by law enforcement officers at the security check point. After continued intimidation and harassment the officers escorted them off the island and threatened to arrest them if they were to return.
At all points of contact the street medics were very open and transparent with their names, identification, medical credentials, and intentions. Nonetheless, law enforcement chose to delegitimize their contributions and incapacitate their ability as care providers to mitigate the trauma experienced by persons who still had not received aid and were facing critical situations. Currently the only available source of legitimized care in Galveston is FEMA. Competent caregivers are actively being denied access to communities in need by an entity whose main concern is to control, not to provide care and support. Such actions not only reduce the capacity for disaster relief but actively prevents at risk communities from receiving care from allies and their own communities. The most sustainable form of security is not a police state with curfews and federally mandated aid stations, but strong communities with the skills and capacity to take care of each other. These street medics offered their own time, medical supplies, and resources to provide solidarity and mutual aid to vulnerable communities at a critical moment. Despite local support of their presence the street medics were turned away and threatened by FEMA and local law enforcement without reason.