Columns, Major Incidents, Patient Care

When Fools Rush In

In the play King Henry VI, the character Dick the Butcher says, The first thing we do, let s kill all the lawyers. 1 Shakespeare, in his infinite wisdom, put into prose what people sometimes think about lawyers. Honestly, the law is truly an honorable profession, and the vast majority of lawyers are highly ethical. But then, there are the bottom feeders. And now, the bottom feeders have descended on Louisiana and south Texas in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

I recently read where Acadian Ambulance Service was being investigated for failing to evacuate a quadriplegic patient and his elderly caretaker in Saint Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina. Although this is certainly a sad event, Acadian should not be blamed. EMS systems and fire departments are designed solely for day-to-day needs. In the event of a disaster, resources are taxed and services are slower, reduced or sometimes impossible. Why isn t the New Orleans Fire Department under investigation for not putting out the many fires that erupted in New Orleans after Katrina hit?

Here in Texas, approximately 10 miles from my house, a bus carrying numerous nursing home patients evacuated from Houston before Hurricane Rita caught fire in the early morning hours. The fire, fueled by numerous oxygen cylinders in use on the bus, resulted in an explosion that moved through the bus so fast nobody could be rescued, and 24 souls perished. It was very sad, and the lawyers have subsequently gathered like buzzards over a dead steer. But this was during a disaster, and Texas Governor Rick Perry lifted some regulations on buses and other vehicles so that the 4 million plus Texans who were in Rita s path could be evacuated to a safer area. It was necessary and the right thing to do. In the words of the great philosopher Mr. Spock, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

President Bush and the U.S. Congress should immediately enact legislation that provides both civil and criminal immunity to those who, in good faith, responded to the call to assist all victims of disaster especially Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. If an EMS agency or fire department fears that they may be sued for their actions, they may be hesitant to respond to a disaster.

Acadian Ambulance is a first-class operation with high-quality employees. Further, many of these employees lost their homes and even some family members in these disasters yet continued to work. The failure to pick up the quadriplegic patient and his caretaker in Saint Bernard s parish was nothing more than an oversight an oversight that I know grieves both the employees and management of Acadian.

But in disasters, people die. The problems in New Orleans and southern Louisiana are much deeper than those recently brought up by the media. Corruption, nepotism and similar evils have been a part of southern Louisiana politics for nearly a hundred years. We would be na ve to think that these would suddenly be resolved 48 hours before a Category 4 hurricane hit the Crescent City.

Texas, however, was a different story. When Katrina hit New Orleans, it was among the worst disasters ever to hit the United States. In the midst of the rescue efforts, civil rights leaders shrieked about discrimination, and some even declared that levees were intentionally blown up to specifically harm minority residents of the ninth ward.2 While this was occurring, the good people of Texas graciously opened their arms and accepted approximately two-thirds of the New Orleans population. Sports venues and convention centers were opened. Strangers went to the evacuee centers and picked up families and took them home.

The Texas response was well-organized and professional. For the first time since the battle of the Alamo, the Mexican Army moved onto Texas soil and set up a mobile kitchen to cook for the thousands of evacuees that were at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.

And, when Rita descended on our shores, we evacuated nearly 4 million people from southeast Texas in less than 48 hours. Was it perfect? Absolutely not! But it proved what could be done with planning and an open mind.

And, by the way, not all lawyers are bad. A good friend of mine, Wes Ogilvie, is a lawyer and volunteer EMT in Austin. After Rita hit the coast, Wes s first inclination wasn t to look for a potential client for a personal injury suit. Instead, he grabbed his EMS equipment and went to the Austin Convention Center and treated evacuees. People like Wes and others are the reason that Texans are a proud and independent lot.


1. Shakespeare W: King Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene 2.