Editors Note: John R. Brophy is an Edgewater, New Jersey firefighter and an EMT with the Jersey City Medical Center. He was attending the EMS Expo in New Orleans.
On the morning before Katrina hit New Orleans I had made contact with Hilton Security Captain Lucien Fortone to offer my assistance as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), little did I know that a few days later I would have been part of a team of guests and staff that would come together like a family and do so much for so many.
As others came forward to help, we organized into a cohesive unit, developed a plan, and established our own Incident Command Structure. We surveyed the building, considered options and presented our concerns and ideas to the Hilton staff who recognized us as filling a critical need and supported us in helping them and the thousands of other guests and people from the public that were provided shelter and food before, during, and after the storm.
The Hilton staff and corporate structure was amazing and did not waver in their efforts. They made sure people had three hot meals a day, made arrangements for supplies to be brought in when they could and developed a plan to get everyone to safety regardless of whether or not they were paying guests, staff, or simply people of New Orleans that had somehow made it to the Hilton before the storm.
For my experience I was never prouder to be part of and actually lead a team of people in a time of need than I was when I had the honor of taking the helm of our team of guests at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. No one was bigger than the team, everyone gave what they could and more in energy, ideas, and just plain hard work.
Whether it was carrying someone down from the 27th floor, caring for numerous patients with chest pain, shortness of breath, or even seizures the team of EMS professionals from around the United States and Canada did it all and did it with courage and compassion.
Early on we knew that there was no way of evacuating people to hospitals during the storm, and after the storm the three hospitals that were close by were either inaccessible or being evacuated. Everyone stayed focused and went back to the most basic of emergency medical care and kept guests calm and provided a quality of care and basic human kindness that assured every guest and staff member got out of the Hilton alive.
The Hilton staff worked around the clock side-by-side with our team and when it came time that they had busses on the way they called upon our team to work with them to organize and move everyone onto busses in the middle of the night and safely evacuate them from the hotel and the city.
Once out of the city, Hilton arranged a reception point in Baton Rouge where everyone evacuated from their hotel in New Orleans was provided a hot meal and sanitary facilities. Whether you were a hotel guest or a citizen of New Orleans that had the good fortune to wind-up in the Hilton for the storm and the days that followed, Hilton made sure you were safely evacuated from Louisiana to Texas and beyond.
For my part, I will never forget what Hilton and its staff did for all of those people, but even beyond that I will always remember the honor it was for me to serve as EMS Command at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. I will always remember not because of the position I stepped up and filled, but rather because of the amazing things that the 27 people that came together and created the Hilton EMS Team accomplished.