Magnolia TX Fires

Just wanted to touch base with you and give you an update on the progress we have made at the Magnolia fires. Because of chaplain manpower shortages, in the beginning I primarily focused my efforts between the Incident Command Center at Magnolia West Sr. High School and the primary shelter at Magnolia East High School. The census at the shelter was about 140. We closed the shelter and transferred the evacuee’s to the Wildwood United Methodist church. At 140 we were well over capacity and today as people began to be allowed back into their subdivisions the census was anticipated to drop to about 85 with the opening of another shelter.

Chaplain Harvey Pendleton and I have stayed in touch a couple of times daily to check our manpower needs and progress of the fire fighting efforts. We both observed a struggle for control between the local organizations and decided that we would remain open to all levels of organizations as they determined the power structures. It is still obvious that there is little understanding as to how to effectively use trained and credentialed chaplains in the response efforts. Because of that lack of understanding I positioned myself at the Staging area next to the EOC. After the fire engines refilled with water, the fire personnel got their food and rest then returned to Staging for assignment to hot areas on the fire line. At that point before they left I positioned myself there to pray over the fire unit and the personnel. They were very happy to be reminded that the Lord was on the fire line with them. I believe that one of the channels here got a story on this and I will try to find it and link it in another email.

Some of the specific challenges that we had to face at the shelter included an outbreak of projectile vomiting and diarrhea among a large number of shelter residents. The forensic psychologist and I worked together on this to identify a vector for the possible contamination and identified a similar problem that happened during Katrina. At that time the shelters had large containers of ice with water in them used to keep containers of soda, water and other liquids for consumption by the shelter residents. It was found that there was really inadequate washing of hands by the residents and that they were thrusting their hands down into the ice containers to retrieve a drink and inadvertently leaving bacteria in the water which contaminated the drinking surface of each bottle in the ice slush mixture, making people sick. The Montgomery Health department was consulted and agreed with the potential source. We devised a plan to break the vector by taking, one by one, each ice cooler outside, emptying the contents, rinsing the inside of the container, placing a 1:5 mixture of bleach and water into the containers, putting all of the water, gatorade and other containers back into the ice chest, allow to set in the bleach/water mixture for 10 minutes, empty, rinse, and place new ice in the containers. Then we assigned one person to wash hands, use gloves, and dispense the containers to the residents as they requested. We found there was a real confusion about hand sanitizers…you have to wash your hands prior to use of the sanitizers for them to work. Many think that hand sanitizer use removes the need to wash with warm soapy water. Also, we learned the use of really hot water with chlorox was not proper as the hot water negatively affected the release of chlorine for sterilization. Also, the health department advised us to not use the hose that was used to water the pets as the water running down from where the pets were housed contaminated the water coming from the hose.

Lots of good information for chaplains to know to keep people…and other chaplains…safe from infection and sickness while working a shelter care.

Chaplain Gale and I went to a local pharmacy and asked if they could give us some Immodium…the local pharmacy gave us almost all they had for free. We have never seen such generocity in a community. Someone put on facebook that there was a need for Immodium at the shelter…and the doors were flooded with Immodium…enough for many outbreaks.

Chaplain Gale Yandell continues to be a great leader, compassionate chaplain and wonderful human who reaches out to people with such ease and sincerity. We had a new chaplain Vonzell Harris (recently trained in Albuquerque) with us and a hospital chaplain….that will soon take our training to join IFOC…Chaplain Lynn Carpenter. We had many inquiries about IFOC and I feel certain that we will be booking classes in the Magnolia, TX area. Wonderful people…loving…giving…caring…just the kind of people we want to be chaplains and do the work of the Lord. Chaplain Tara Dorah joined us for one day.

Today we began to see stress problems showing up on the Red Cross personnel working the shelters. They do not get enough rest and they suffer from organizational fluctuations in support that sometimes leave them with a set of rules like…if you’re going to talk to people about God…take them outside. After I had a relationship with the shelter director I said…”You think God isn’t in here already? And where do you think all of these thousands of people dropping off food, diapers, clothes and everything imaginable got the “spirit” to give? He just smiled. Many of their “rules” are an effort for political correctness…not for practical…down to earth…Christian people helping people. But they are under loads of stress and need us to stand by them as well.

We did have one unique challenge as a mother allowed her 14 year old girl to spend time with a known, registered sex-offender. When it was claimed that the little girl was missing the mother had a change of heart about her permission to be with the man and the search began. Very soon we found that this was a diversion that allowed the mother and father to load up 5 truck loads of supplies that could be resold for money. They were caught on the 5th truck load…and at the impressive direction of a very large constable, they decided to return all of the supplies…and were asked to leave the shelter.

The effect of home loss on children continues to be one of the most difficult of problems to manage. We should ask the membership of IFOC to blog different ways that other chaplains approach this issue. We all need help on this one.

Just today additional chaplain organizations started showing up. We have made great strides working with the Victim Relief Chaplains and the Southern Baptists Relief Chaplains and when this fire has been whipped…and we get some rain down here in Texas… I have proposed that all chaplains that worked this massive fire come together in Magnolia for a big pot luck dinner and a chance to lay aside our different organizational roles to lift up the wonderful work we are privileged to do as chaplains…in the name of the Lord. The local fire Chief seems quite receptive. Just like Dave reminds us….we need to join forces with other organizations as we are all doing the work of the Lord…and we need everyone.

I will be going back out to the shelter tomorrow for half a day and to the EOC to see if we can be of further help. Many of the Bastrop firefighters came to Magnolia to give us the human-power to put this fire down. The heat has been so intense here that not only the trees above the ground been destroyed but also the root systems have been burning…resulting in many of the flare-ups in the area.

At the high point of the fire they called in a DC-10 to drop large amounts of retardant and water on various areas. I was at the Emergency Operations Center and while watching this massive plane swoop down and pick up water then deliver it and bank out I could help but remember back to 911 and the appearance of the planes just before hitting the world trade center. Now these planes deliver mass coverage. Here’s a look at them doing their jobs.

Blessed to be a blessing…all you in the Northeast…send us some of your rain,

Chaplain Keith Robinson

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