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Kitsap’s Christian Medical Response Team on standby for local disasters

When major disaster strikes somewhere around the country or beyond, chances are that a team of Kitsap medical providers is among those deploying for help. For 20 years, local physicians, paramedics, nurses, nurse practitioners, EMTs and medical assistants — volunteers with the Silverdale-based nonprofit Christian Medical Response Team — have provided medical care for major events as well as responding to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. And while CMRT hasn’t had to activate for one of its core missions — a major disaster in Kitsap County or the state of Washington — it’s always ready for it.

“We have strategic locations set up for a field hospital in case of disaster (in Kitsap) and everyone on the team knows the plan,” said Dr. Dan Diamond, a local physician and CMRT founder and director.

CMRT got its start in 1994 as The Youth for Christ Medical Team, a medical provider for a Youth for Christ conference in Washington, D.C. The five-day event drew 20,000 teens and tens of thousands of people for a rally. To understand the setup of a massive event, Diamond and his wife, Debbie, went to a Pink Floyd concert to learn, and then tapped the world-renowned Rock Medicine team for training.

After working with Rock Medicine at a Grateful Dead concert, the team was asked to come back for five more shows. “Disaster needs people who have a sense of humor and can think fast on their feet,” Diamond said. “We as a group had the passion to take in all folks in a loving, nonjudgmental way.”
Diamond tapped into his local network of physicians and paramedics to form the early teams. He said the partnership worked out well because physicians and paramedics could learn from each other. “I learned a lot about field medicine from paramedics,” he said. “They taught us a lot about how to keep a team safe and how to approach a crowd while going against thousands of people.”

The group became affiliated with Kitsap County’s Department of Emergency Management and the state of Washington after Diamond approached the DEM’s director, Phyllis Mann. “I said I had this team and we had training, and offered to be the county’s team. It worked out to be a great arrangement. We’ve clocked thousands of hours of work,” he said, adding that CMRT became the first state-affiliated disaster team in the country.

Over the years, they have provided care at events such as Metallica’s concert in Seattle, Bumbershoot and Creation Fest at the Gorge.

“It was an amazing training environment for us,” Diamond said of Creation Fest, where the team saw more than 500 patients during the first week one year. The festival was in July, and in August the group responded to Hurricane Katrina. “We used the same strategy to handle a crowd,” Diamond said.

Diamond’s personal disaster response work is quite extensive and he is recognized nationally for his expertise on resilience. During the Katrina response, he served as the director of the medical triage unit at the New Orleans Convention Center. Using his disaster experience, he trains others on strategies for performing under pressure. He’s in the process of writing a book, “Triage Thinking,” geared toward business people in high-pressure situations like cutbacks and acquisitions. Locally, he has practiced as a physician for The Doctors Clinic for more than 25 years. He now practices at the Harrison Medical Center’s Urgent Care in Port Orchard and serves as the medical director for Harrison’s Urgent Care.

CMRT has about 50 volunteers from around the state but most of them are from Kitsap. When responding to events around the country, they deploy as a nongovernmental organization in partnership with Medical Teams International.

Last year, the nonprofit organization officially obtained a 501(c)3 status. Its funding comes largely from donations. A couple of years ago, CMRT launched the West Sound Free Clinic, a mobile service that provides primary care in partnership with several local organizations that serve people in need. The clinic is a community service, but it also doubles as continuing training because the volunteer medical providers have to do their work in a conference room setting or out of the back of a converted ambulance.
Several local businesses have supported CMRT with in-kind donations. Reliable Storage in Silverdale, for example, has provided free storage for equipment for years. E-bed of Poulsbo donated $10,000 worth of specialized foldable beds three years ago. “It’s an example of Kitsap County rallying around us,” Diamond said.

Pam Wright, who provides administrative support and volunteer coordination, said they continue to recruit one to two new volunteers every month and most of the people come by word of mouth. Wright herself became involved about 17 years ago through her husband, Paul, a firefighter and EMT who is a battalion chief in Kent. She said what attracts many of the volunteers is their desire to serve others.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to give back, especially being a Christian organization,” she said. “We provide a service that is needed in our community and could possibly be needed if something major were to happen. Our community needs us now more than ever.”

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