When disaster strikes, Americans respond – sending food, water, clothing and money to help those suffering. Often overlooked, however, are the men and women volunteering their days and nights to help pull communities out of wreckage.
The rescuers in Haiti and other disaster-struck areas work in extreme heat or cold, early in the morning and late into the night. Their living conditions are substandard, and the agencies they support often do not have the funds to provide them with personal protective equipment. Subsequently, many of these volunteers are responsible for bringing their own gear and supplies.
“Really, what these volunteers can bring with them only scratches the surface of what they need to stay safe and comfortable,” said Tom Votel, CEO and president of Ergodyne, a manufacturer of worker protection and performance products.
“It's amazing when you consider the strict personal protective equipment regulations U.S. workers must follow on a daily basis, then compare that to what is available for disaster relief workers,” he added. “Disaster relief organizations are doing their best to protect their workers but with limited time and resources there is a huge, unmet need.”
STEPPING IN TO PROTECT THE HEROES
When a devastating earthquake shook Haiti on Jan. 12, it destroyed the cities of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel and the surrounding regions and left the country in chaos.
Immediately, individuals, private organizations, governments and corporations across the world began to respond with relief supplies. Thousands of volunteers even took it a step further, traveling to Haiti to contribute their time, expertise and capable hands. The result has been a massive response to match an earthquake of massive proportions.
Now, months later, the press frenzy has calmed. Yet, there still are thousands of Haitian and international relief workers working grueling hours to help the country recover. Despite the hazardous conditions in which they find themselves, workers have been required to provide their own personal protection equipment (PPE). More often than not, their PPE simply does not provide the protection or productivity necessary in the disaster zones they are working to rebuild.
GETTING PPE TO RELIEF WORKERS
Ergodyne saw the tremendous need and wanted to do something about it. As a result, the company sent almost $100,000 worth of safety gear to equip the volunteers on the front lines of the Haitian earthquake relief efforts.
“The fact of the matter is, without proper PPE, the volunteer workers in Haiti are at risk for personal injury and illness,” said Votel. “They will be of the most help to the people of Haiti if they are safe and healthy. As a safety products manufacturer, we were in a unique position to ease some of their burden with our protection and performance products.”
Through a partnership with the Center for International Disaster Response and Ergodyne's distribution partner, Superior Third Party Logistics, Ergodyne sent materials to two volunteer organizations working in Haiti: Child Sponsorship Inc. and Sonje Yo Inc.
The first group, Child Sponsorship, traveled to Haiti in early February to help rebuild a hurricane-destroyed school in Port-au-Prince.
“The Ergodyne donations were not only practical and useful in our efforts, but an act of kindness toward the Haitians,” said Julie Scott, coordinator with Child Sponsorship Inc. “To give you an idea of just how excited the Haitians were to have the work gear, they even wore their [evaporative] bandanas throughout an entire 4-hour meeting prior to heading over to the worksite.”
After a week in Haiti, the volunteers had built a temporary wooden structure, allowing 1,500 students to return to school.
Sonje Yo (Haitian Creole for “Remember Them”) is a Georgia-based humanitarian organization active in coordinating the supply of relief materials with worthy projects in Haiti. Working with Sonje Yo, Ergodyne was able to ship a significant amount of PPE for the relief effort. Some of these products included:
Fire and rescue extrication gloves — Normally used on vehicle accidents, construction sites or demolition zones, extrication gloves are particularly apt for dealing with the challenges of an earthquake zone. As workers attempt to clear abrasive rubble and dangerous debris, the extrication gloves with Kevlar help protect their hands from serious injury.
Evaporative bandanas — Besides the risks associated with hazardous materials, relief workers also must deal with the high temperatures and humidity of the Haitian summer. Temperatures often reach the 90s and make the tough physical work even more exhausting. Properly used, cooling products help keep workers cool for hours.
Class 2 high-visibility vests — To reduce the risk of accidents in the aftermath of an earthquake, Ergodyne provided hundreds of Class 2 high-visibility vests to Haiti, raising the visibility and safety of hundreds of workers.
Equipment storage systems — Keeping necessary items at the ready, equipment bags and waist packs were used to transport mission critical items including tools, PPE and water.
“Clearing away and rebuilding after that level of destruction means working with sharp objects and dangerous materials, working in exhaustive heat and dirty conditions” said Votel. “In this situation, proper PPE is not a ‘nice to have,’ it's a ‘need to have.’”
Ergodyne sees its role following these disasters as “helping the helpers,” supplying the needs of volunteers so they can most effectively help victims. Its donations to Haitian relief continue a long history of fulfilling this mission, from providing supplies to Ground Zero workers after 9/11 to shipping tarps to ravaged areas after Hurricane Katrina to supporting Habitat for Humanity.
“Every business has a need it can fill,” said Votel. “The products we manufacture happen to help the tireless workers who often get overlooked. I hope our donation can shed some light on the significant gap that the safety community can fill.”
Greg Schrab is a product expert for Ergodyne, specializing in personal protective equipment for extreme temperature environments. Schrab has been managing products and operations in the safety industry for more than 15 years and is an active member of the International Safety Equipment Association. To learn more about Ergodyne, visit http://www.ergodyne.com.