Ambulance, medical supplies headed from Capital Region to epicenter of last year’s deadly earthquake in Haiti

A used ambulance the Community Emergency Corps in Ballston Spa took out of service was donated to the Rotary Club of Haiti with help from the Schenectady and Ballston Spa Rotary clubs, February 2022.
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A used ambulance the Community Emergency Corps in Ballston Spa took out of service was donated to the Rotary Club of Haiti with help from the Schenectady and Ballston Spa Rotary clubs, February 2022.

Rotarians in Ballston Spa and Schenectady — along with Saratoga County officials — recently joined efforts to ship a used ambulance and medical supplies to one of the world’s least developed countries.

Thanks to two local Rotarians, a surplus ambulance owned by the Community Emergency Corps. of Ballston Spa is en route to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, with its ultimate destination Les Cayes, a seaport town about an eight-hour drive southwest.

Les Cayes was the chosen destination for the ambulance because it’s the epicenter of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck on Aug. 14, leaving more than 2,200 people dead, nearly 13,000 people injured, and more than 300 missing, along with property damage estimated at $1.5 billion.

The Ballston Spa nonprofit organization needed to take the ambulance out of commission because it had received a new one, Ray Otten, executive director of Community Emergency Corps., said this week.

The trade-in value for used ambulances is $3,000 to $5,000, essentially peanuts for a vehicle that cost anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 when purchased new, said Otten, a Ballston Spa Rotarian.

The director determined that donating it to the needy country would be the better course of action, and with proper maintenance, it’s possible the ambulance could have another five to 10 years of life, he said.

Otten said he’d heard of responders in Haiti using pickup trucks and station wagons — whatever they could get their hands on — to transport ailing patients.

Plus, Otten said he hates waste.

“So when you combine those values, with us being EMTs, we tend to understand that we should help where we can,” Otten said. “If we’ve got something that maybe somebody could use, why not? We have to take care of each other.”

Otten reached out to Brian Merriam, a Schenectady Rotarian who drove the ambulance from the Capital Region some 1,800 miles to Miami last week.

As this project was in motion, Merriam sought donations from his own Rotary Club and others in the area. The effort generated more than $8,000, which was wired to the Camp-Perrin Rotary Club in Les Cayes.

Merriam also took 500 pounds of medical equipment — items such as backboards, stethoscopes, leg splints, EMS bags and even three CPR training dummies — that officials in Saratoga County donated.

Merriam cited Mike McEvoy of the Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services, Lori Prock of the Saratoga County Public Health Services and Tracy Weir and the Waterford Rescue Squad for supplying the medical equipment.

Also, Ellis Hospital donated a used ultrasound machine with a stand and operating software, Merriam said.

The medical equipment had to be shipped separately, rather than inside of the ambulance, because of the cargo company’s rules.

This posed a problem for boxing nine 6-foot backboards, Merriam said. Thankfully a local mortician had cremation “coffins” to hold the backboards in place.

Merriam said he drove to Florida because he didn’t want to incur the cost of renting a flatbed. The cost of diesel gas was $3.80 to $4.19 per gallon, and on their best day of travel they got 15 miles per gallon.

Otten said he was glad to hear the ambulance didn’t incur any mechanical problems while en route to Miami.

“These rigs don’t take those long trips, usually,” he said.

Merriam’s travel mate was his friend Chris Hedlund, a former EMT from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

It is the second time Merriam and Hedlund drove and shipped a used ambulance to Carrefour, Haiti.

In 2019, they drove a used ambulance that Hedlund helped secure from Mohawk Ambulance and the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service. They drove 1,100 miles from Wisconsin to Schenectady, held a press conference in the Electric City, then proceeded 600 miles to Baltimore to have the ambulance shipped to Haiti.

Prior to that effort, Merriam said he had mentioned to Hedlund to keep an eye out for any ambulances, because of the tremendous need in Carrefour, Haiti.

Merriam said his friend, Dr. Dorgu Pettit-homme president of the Rotary Club of Camp-Perrin in Lecayes, will receive the ambulance that was donated by the Ballston Spa organization.

Although there’s a fear that the ambulance will be stolen by gang communities in Port-au-Prince, Dr. Pettit-homme, who runs a Haitian clinic, and the others are hopeful it will make it to its destination, considering it will be used to help many, Merriam said.

Merriam, whose former 126-year-old family-owned insurance company in Schenectady, Merriam Agency, was acquired last year by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., says he wants to continue bringing help to Haitians.

“It really is difficult to appreciate how needy a country could be unless you’ve actually been there — and I’ve been going there since 1999,” he said. “I just fell in love with the place. The average Haitian makes $1,900 a year — so just a couple of bucks a day, if you’re doing well.”

Because of its corruption, violence and gang activity — along with the average Haitian living to 62, and an infant mortality rate that’s 14 times higher than the U.S. — Haiti is “a terrible place to live,” and Merriam said “anytime that I can do anything for those people, I’m always happy to do that.”

Merriam said he would also like to help Carrefour with its garbage crisis.

He said the city’s mayor asked him to ship a garbage truck.

But that’ll be a challenge, Merriam said.

“The garbage problem in Haiti is just unbelievable to see,” he said. “When you’re driving from the airport, you go past rivers that are filled with garbage. You can’t get to the water. It’s just wall-to-wall garbage. And there are piles of garbage. Some of the piles will be set on fire. Others, you’ll have pigs scavenging through and you’ll have humans scavenging through.”

Merriam said he came to recognize the tremendous need in other parts of the world at age 15, when his father took him on a trip to 24 countries that spanned most major continents in three months.

“So when each one of my three kids turned 15, I brought them to Haiti with me so they can see how many people in the world actually live,” he said. “It’s only a four-hour flight from JFK Airport. It’s only a 90-minute flight from Miami. So this is a country which is a neighbor of ours and people live in terrible conditions.”

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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