Gig Harbor firefighter and paramedic Rob McCoy was part of a Disaster Response Northwest team in June. He works with Mihir Parikh to start an IV on a Haitian man in the clinic. Photo courtesy Rob McCoy

Helping those who need it most comes naturally for Kaci Sun. As a firefighter and paramedic for Key Peninsula Fire District 16, Sun helps people every day. But her resolve and skills will be especially necessary in the coming weeks.

She will take some vacation time to use her knowledge and training in a challenging environment when she travels to Haiti on July 16 with a team from Disaster Response Northwest.

The team will spend 10 days helping the people of Port Au Prince and the surrounding area who are still dealing with the effects of the 7.0 earthquake that shook that part of the world on Jan. 12.

“It’s going to be good to be able to use my skills to help other people in a country a lot less fortunate than mine, with a lot of sickness and poverty,” she said. “This is a good opportunity for me.”

Those who have been there say the situation is sobering, and that not much has changed since the earthquake. The people of that region are still suffering.

“I believe it to be makeshift hospitals, and we’ll be sleeping on the grounds in tents,” Sun said.

Each team is made up of medical professionals dedicated to the cause. They use donations and in many cases their own money, medical leave or vacation time.

The non-profit organization was started after Armadeus Davidson and many of his colleagues at the Gig Harbor Fire District were turned away from the bigger organizations already in place there.

“It’s funny,” said Davidson, who is president of the non-profit. “The other non- governmental organizations that turned us away now rely on us for staffing support.”

It was a mere four days after the earthquake, frustrated by the red tape and rejection, when Davidson and a group of medical personnel from Gig Harbor formed Disaster Response Northwest, he said.

Their mission:  to respond worldwide within 48 hours.

“What we found in Haiti is no infrastructure, and in Haiti the larger NGOs were so overwhelmed, so we figured our smaller groups can go out into the country and provide aid without a lot of bureaucracy, waiting on funds, or whatever else.”

Kaci Sun

It has worked. Disaster Response Northwest is on its 16th mission and counting.

“We have missions every two weeks through the end of August and look forward to doing this past September,” he said.

Davidson said DRN will begin to scale back, but plans to have a presence in Haiti into 2011. The cost for DRN personnel is a fraction of the cost for others. Davidson said the cost for each volunteer for the 10-day stay is about $1,000. Cost for care is at $8 per patient and he said they see up to 700 patients a day.

With each mission teams take supplies to the orphanages in Haiti.

“We are taking diapers and formula, soccer balls, blankets and mats for children like they use in daycares,” Davidson said. “The children are literally living in concrete caves on floors. We will take anything daycares would take for supplies, and we take cash donations.”

DRN also is accepting medical professionals who want to volunteer, and even those who are not medically trained.

“If they aren’t medical, they can coordinate with us for fundraising, collecting supplies, or logistics that would support us state side to provide the maximum effectiveness,” he said. “Our main priority is not to turn anyone away.”

And they are committed to being transparent, so that each donor will know where the money is going, he said.

“We are willing to account for every penny, and we will put it on our website and show where every penny went. We’re proud we can deliver the amount of care for so little. I have spent thousands of my own money.

”It is a mission that Davidson believes in and has committed himself to, though he admits it has been difficult.

“My biggest challenge is to balance this, work, and family. If I could, I would quit my job and do this full time. A lot of people think we’re nuts for using our free time and vacation going to Haiti. “

For more information about Disaster Response Northwest, or to donate money or supplies, visit www.diasternw.org.

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