New York City firefighters and emergency workers will spend two weeks in Haiti teaching emergency response techniques to hundreds of residents displaced by a January earthquake to help strengthen their lifesaving skills in the first moments of a disaster.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday that a 12-member team is heading to Port-au-Prince to lead training developed from a nationally recognized emergency response program for ordinary citizens. Bloomberg said it's the first time the city will teach its community emergency response program outside the United States.
The concept was first developed in 1985 by the Los Angeles Fire Department, based on the idea that people often have to fend for themselves in the initial stages of catastrophes. The federal government expanded the concept a decade later, and now there are thousands of such programs across the country.
Volunteers who have had the training helped their fellow citizens in recent disasters including California wildfires, New Hampshire flooding and a Boston water main break.
Bloomberg said former President Bill Clinton, who co-chairs fundraising efforts for the earthquake-stricken country, recommended the training for Haiti. New York City was chosen to teach the classes to about 400 people who are now living in shelters at a former golf course housing tens of thousands displaced by the earthquake.
Officials said that if the first round of classes go well, there are plans to expand the training throughout Haiti.
"The worst part of the tragedy was because Haiti didn't have any infrastructure to give first aid to the people," said City Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who is Haitian. "This is a wonderful program that is going to make a change for Haiti and is going to make Haiti prepared for eventual disaster."
The group leaving next Monday includes four New York City firefighters who speak Haitian Creole, a health department doctor and nurse and staff members from the Office of Emergency Management.
They will train Haitians on fire safety, first aid, triage, light search and rescue and strategies to address civil unrest. They will also teach water safety and public health.
Firefighter Jean Tanis said he was likely to focus on teaching search and rescue as well as skills that would "help the people know how to evaluate a situation, not rush into danger, how to not become a potential victim themselves."
New York City also sent emergency workers to Haiti in the days after the earthquake to assist with search and rescue efforts.