Treating medical needs in the jungles of Puerto Rico

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When DTE Energy began planning for its largest and most complicated mutual assistance trip yet, there were a lot of elements to plan for, including what to do should one of the linemen become injured or sick while working in the rural, mountainous jungle of Puerto Rico.

Safety is DTE’s No. 1 priority, and a majority of the deployed linemen have years of experience under their toolbelts. However, line work can involve many hazards. When combining normal concerns with the drastically different terrain of Puerto Rico and the knowledge that crews may be working in areas unreachable by emergency vehicles, DTE knew it had to take extra precautions to ensure employees received quality, timely care should they need it.

Fortunately for the company, they didn’t have to look too far to find the perfect candidate.

Brad Mousseau, occupational health paramedic, has spent more than 20 years responding to medical needs, with the last three years serving employees of DTE under the company’s contract with Henry Ford Health System. He also spent time as a FEMA field supervisor for a medic crew during Hurricane Katrina, and spent more than a month responding to medical needs in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida as part of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).

“It seemed like a natural, easy selection,” said Mousseau. “I have a lot of emergency experience in the field, so I can handle injuries on the job site. I’ve already been on the island, so I knew what to expect. And, I currently work for DTE, so I know all the policies, procedures and processes when it comes to work-related injuries.”

As the first medic to be embedded with crews during a mutual assistance trip, Mousseau and his supervisor, Don Hinkson, spent a lot of time planning and preparing for what they might come across.

The first obstacle was how Mousseau would be able to get from crew to crew. Narrow roadways prevent vehicles from passing around job sites, and many of the jobs involved hiking up mountains, wading across rivers and trekking into the lush vegetation of El Yunque National Forest.

To make his medic center mobile, Mousseau packed a backpack full of the supplies needed to perform virtually any basic, on-site care. He then rented larger equipment, such AEDs, and stored one in each vehicle. He also spent a lot of time researching the resources on the island and making contact with local doctors, specialists and hospitals should he need assistance while responding to a medical situation.

While Mousseau is prepared for almost anything, the most common ailments he expects to treat are the basics: insect bites, allergic reactions, pulled muscles, sprains and general cuts and bruises.

“What I expect to address the most of is the normal muscle aches and sprains,” said Mousseau. “We have a lot of veteran linemen here who know their work and what they’re doing. But, when you’re put into a disaster mode like this, you tend to go above and beyond normal, which can cause sprains, strains and all of the little things.”

To prepare crews, he spent the days leading up to the deployment answering questions and concerns from employees, administrating immunizations, and educating himself and others on what to expect while working on the island.

Mousseau will spend the full 60 days on the island, serving both waves of DTE linemen that will work to restore power to the northeastern corner of the island. He is excited to spend this time learning more about line work and seeing the crews in action as they restore power to people who have spent almost five months in the dark.