In its first full deployment, elite Utah medical team heads to Houston

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chad Pascua and Laura Tramell embrace as members of Utah's DMAT-1 (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) meet at the Salt Lake City Airport en route to Texas, Tuesday August 29, 2017. 36 members of the team are headed to the Houston area to help with the fallout of Hurricane Harvey.

The call came a few days ago to prepare as Hurricane Harvey gathered strength before deluging Houston with rain and destruction.

Utah’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team answered — assembling at Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday for the first time as an entire 36-person unit in its 10-year history. Headed by University of Utah anesthesiologist Steven Bott, the group members will fly to Dallas to await instruction on where best to deploy their skills in Houston in the wake of now-Tropical Storm Harvey.

Similar to a National Guard unit, the DMAT-1 is a group of physicians, nurses, paramedics and medical specialists who have agreements with employers to help on short-term notice when disaster strikes.

“The folks here with the team are your local neighbors,” Bott said.

The system is in place primarily to help with hurricane relief, with several members, including Bott, who helped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There are 56 teams nationwide.

“These are the teams that took care of people in the convention center and the Superdome and the New Orleans airport and the field hospitals in Baton Rouge,” Bott said.

DMAT-1 likely will receive an assignment within 24 hours of arriving in Dallas and can spend up to two weeks working in Houston. Bott anticipates that the team will assist with safely evacuating patients from closed hospitals in the area, bolstering short-staffed hospitals, setting up field hospitals or providing care to people sheltered in the Houston convention center.

“That may be part of our mission — help move people out of the most severely affected area and get them to places that are not affected,” he said.

Barrett Raymond, a nurse at Utah Valley Hospital, said it’s important to go to Houston to provide relief.

“Looking at the amount of flooding that‘s happened in a short amount of time is just really unbelievable,” Raymond said. ”I can’t imagine really what people are going through down there and the amount of stress that they’re feeling.”

Bott said he feels a sense of responsibility to set aside his daily life to help however he can.

“I feel great gratitude that I‘m able to bring these kinds of resources to people that are not as able to take care of themselves,” he said. ”Maybe we’ll be able to help take care of them.”