Happy to help!
by Latoya Burnham
The work of a group of volunteers known locally as the Roving Response Team is continuing to garner local attention, and at a time when most service organisations are crying out that they can’t find enough people to donate their time.
Operations Officer with the roving unit, Harcourt Hinkson, said the 20-year-old group was about 42 members strong.
“We are now getting a lot more recognition than before … and the increase of visibility also means that more people are appreciating what we do. We find ourselves getting calls even in the dead of night and those calls now I think are pretty much on even keel,” he added, when asked if there was an increase in the types of events to which they responded.
In addition to responding to different types of emergencies, Hinkson said as well that institutions and even summer camps contacted them to do demonstrations.
Eight-year volunteer, Ricardo Patrick is one, who as he puts it, was roped in by others he knew in the team because of his involvement in motorsports.
His face is also one people see a lot, as the team responds to matters ranging from flooding, tropical storms or hurricanes, or oil spills, to serious accidents, and lately, flooded buildings.
“I think the incident that sticks with me is this truck coming from a rally in St. Thomas that ran off the road into a gully and that was one of the ones where we had to assist with getting people from in the gully. It is things like that, serious accidents — like I was there with the guy that died on the highway with the Coke truck.
“I had just left home and when I got there I saw all the confusion. There was one police there and there were so many people to control that I turned and told him, we need to do something to stop people walking through the evidence. So we started to move people back and block off access, putting up tape — it is things like that that you get called out to,” said Patrick.
He noted that movement was freer for the team because as volunteers most were self-employed, but he noted as a professional organisation, there were protocols for doing things. So while individual members might be contacted by police or fire officers or other emergency personnel, everything goes through an operations control that keeps track of emergencies, the members and their responses.
And while necessary, it can be dangerous work.
The red emergency beacon on the top of the cars and the diamond roving response emblem adorns the vehicles driven by most, as they often have to be out in the dead of night and in the most challenging of circumstances and disasters.
Patrick said his vehicle was always outfitted with four buckets of sand, shovels, brooms and a few necessary items for cleaning up after accident scenes. Because of the equipment he carries, he is sometimes one of the first contacted when there is an oil spill, information he then relays to his command control that helps mobilise others.
“It is important, but a lot of people still don’t understand what we do. But other agencies, like MTW sometimes applaud the things that we do because we are sometimes out there at night when a tree falls, you can’t always reach others that would deal with that. So we play a very important role and we think of it as giving back to society.”
The role they are required to play and the seriousness with which they approach their volunteer roles means that training is a constant, to refresh skills and to learn new ones. So search and rescue, first aid, marshalling, Hazmat certification are areas of training that different members possess.
Selwyn Brooks is one of the Hazmat trained professionals on the team, and also one with his own consultancy company. He too has been a member for eight years, noting that occasions like oil spills, safety and response for rally and other motor sports, even tree trimmings and clearings are no stranger to them.
“We don’t go ahead of the agencies, we are here to assist. We have protocols and SOPs [standard operating procedures] that we abide by. For example, if we respond to flooding or whatever, there are procedures we follow. We take what we do very seriously.
“Members always have to be deployed by an operations officer; so we must be called out, but if we are on a scene or something happens and someone contacts one of us individually, we have to call it in.
“A volunteer is a special breed of person. I think, for me personally, the satisfaction is the expression on a person’s face or the change of mood when you have been able to help, even if it means having to sit and talk someone through the process of what has happened and give them guidance as to what to do, because sometimes people don’t know what to do; besides, you never know when you will be on the receiving end as well,” he said.