Medical mission team honored for hurricane work

The South Florida community on Wednesday celebrated selflessness in the face of disaster. Local officials and university personnel together recognized the performance of the 100-member all-volunteer FIU-Florida Advanced Surgical Transport (FAST) team.

The elite group of highly trained and experienced physicians, nurses, paramedics and other professionals mobilize in support of medical missions both locally and abroad. While all have day jobs, they deploy as a cohesive group of first responders when disaster strikes.

Under the direction of Assistant Vice President for Disaster Management & Emergency Operations Ruben Almaguer, the FIU-FAST team sent contingents to handle a surge of emergency room patients at West Kendall Baptist Hospital and Jackson South Community Hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The team also offered operational support to Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon, one of the Florida Keys hardest hit by the storm.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe A. Martinez, in blue tie, presented a proclamation to the FIU-FAST team in recognition of their selflessness in serving communities affected by disasters.

“The FAST team helped with a major influx of patients and getting the hospitals back on their feet,” said Javier I. Marques, FIU vice president for operations and safety. “This is why we created the FAST team here at FIU, to answer this community’s calls, and those abroad, to be here when this community needs it the most, to step up and save lives during a disaster.”

That demonstrated commitment to critical assistance earned FAST a citation from Miami-Dade County. “I’m very proud of the FIU-FAST team for rising to the occasion at a moment’s notice to assist anyone that is in need anywhere in the world,” said Commissioner Joe A. Martinez. Aside from its work in South Florida, FAST last year participated in a 12 day-long humanitarian mission to Guatemala with the U.S. Department of Defense Command, where the team provided medical care for 5,600 patients.

FAST was founded in 2007 at the request of the Florida Department of Health. In 2016, a unique partnership was formed when it joined forces with FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Department of Emergency Management. The partnership has leveraged the resources of a major university to make possible state-of-the-art equipment, training and capabilities. Financial support has come largely from private organizations such as the Batchelor Foundation, Leon Medical Centers, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Baptist Health South Florida and Florida Blue.

Most recently, the South Florida company FORTS USA stepped forward with a unique and important donation: a shiny new mobile unit that will be outfitted as a field hospital. The roughly 20-foot-by-20-foot trailer-style portable will replace the use of a tent for the triage and treatment of patients and can be collapsed when not in use. It is equipped with air conditioning and powered by a generator.

Rafael Torres, a FAST volunteer who deployed with the team following Hurricane Irma, is a paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and takes to heart the work he does. He was among the two dozen members on hand for the ceremony held at MMC. “It’s just a passion that I’ve always had,” he said, “to just be eager to help people and be there when somebody’s in need. That’s pretty much what drives all of us. It’s a wonderful team.”