Hundreds of emergency responders are camped out at the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, waiting to be deployed to the coast.
The effort is staged by FEMA contractor American Medical Response, the country’s largest ambulance provider.
AMR has brought about 500 professionals to the operation at the airport to respond to medical emergencies created by Florence.
“It’s a job where we get to give back as much as we can,” said EMT Michael Roth.
The airport has become the responders’ village. They eat their meals in a hangar, shower in trailers, and sleep on cots or in their ambulances.
“We feed everybody, shower everybody, provide laundry services, haircuts, church services…everything you would see in a community,” said Chris Stawasz, who is the public information officer for AMR’s South Carolina forward operating base.
The responders can’t leave because they have to be ready to deploy to the coast within minutes.
The base has massive resources, with 14 medical helicopters and about 200 ambulances. Stawasz said it’s the biggest FEMA base in the country right now, and it’s the biggest response AMR has done. However, only a few crews have been dispatched.
“Right now we have four units that are out with two different urban search and rescue teams near the coastal part of South Carolina,” he said.
Most of the paid volunteers are at the base at the airport– waiting.
“We play cards,” said EMT Alyssa Sproule. “We take naps while we can because we never know when we’ll get deployed.”
As the threat of flooding still looms, Stawasz said they expect to deploy a significant number of assets Tuesday.
“We want to be out of harm’s way first of all and have an area where we can have good communications and good logistical support to get ready to go out and do missions, so that once the storm passes and damage assessments are made, we can go in,” he said.
The crews are paying particular attention to rivers in the eastern part of the state that could soon rise to dangerous levels.