(News Feature)Faithful serving the faithful

It seemed like a slow night for the first responders from The Event Specialist Team Emergency and Disaster (T.E.S.T.E.D.), one of a few hundred volunteers tasked with attending to injured devotees of the Black Nazarene during the traslacion. For this composite group of firefighters and EMTs, being idle is something they were not trained to do.

"It's not that we wish something bad would happen on our watch, it's the action that we really live for! Plus the camaraderie - nothing like it in the world!" says team leader Con Abraham.

The group whose motto is, "Safety always" was formed by Jenny Recade and RM Sanvectores, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and firefighters out of former members of other first response groups. "This is our way of paying it forward. We were inspired and taught by other volunteers and we in turn train younger guys to do what we do, " according to Recade.

Abraham, a firefighter and Wilderness Search and Rescue (WISAR) operator himself has had a few years experience in the biggest Catholic festival, the "Traslacion," or Feast of the Black Nazarene. He relates many wild and sometimes unexplainable behavior of devotees particularly, the victims whom he has personally treated.

"What I cannot understand the most is the fact that there are parents who bring infants and toddlers to the festival. One particular problem are the vendors and hawkers who blend into the procession in the hope of making extra cash. In one incident, a fishball vendor spilled boiling hot oil onto an infant. The parents panicked and wiped off the hot oil with tissue and the skin peeled off the child!"

Long before the procession starts, Abraham takes the time to do a walkthrough of his sector and talk to devotees and some vendors to caution them or to orient them with basic safety - and common sense - guidelines.

The procession itself has been known to be a potentially hazardous activity, particularly as it gets dark. Drunken revelers throw broken beer bottles along the procession route and barefoot devotees naturally would get cut and have difficulty completing their "panata".

As dawn began to break, the first few patients started coming in. They were mostly needing to check on their blood pressure and general health. Considering that devotees camp out the night before, a large percentage of them are sleep deprived plus the physical exertion of the long walk itself plus the heat are certainly a good recipe for disaster for the literally faint of heart.

In the T.E.S.T.E.D station alone, no less than 18 patients were treated in a span of only two hours for various injuries ranging from cuts on the soles of the feet, fainting spells, hypoglycaemia, hypertension to dislocated shoulders and spinal injuries. One devotee had about an inch and a half of a barbeque stick embedded in his foot!

As far as the Traslacion goes, saving lives entails risking the first responder's own. For them to be able to rescue injured devotees, they had to go into the thick of the crowd and bulldoze their way out of it to get the injured to a treatment station. It is not an easy task considering that these guys don't get paid to do this.

"Ito na rin yung panata namin," says Jenny. "Surgical gloves na lang ang iwinawagayway namin imbes na tuwalya. Ang reward namin ay masulyapan na lang kahit saglit ang imahen ng Poong Nazareno. Malaki ang personal fulfilment na alam mong nakatulong ka sa kapwa mong hindi mo kakilala or kamaganak. Sapat na yun para sa amin."

True enough, as the team was packing up to redeploy to the next location, a devotee walked up to the ambulance and said, "Salamat sa pag-rescue sa akin." And gave a snappy salute! Although the man seemed like he wasn't all there, his simple gesture was enough to convey his gratitude to the team who was devoted to serving people like him who was serving his Faith.

Source: Philippines News Agency