The City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection has welcomed nearly 12,000 evacuees from Afghanistan over the past few weeks, and the Philadelphia Fire Department has played a key role in providing them with emergency medical services (EMS).
PFD members are serving with an ad hoc health care team at Philadelphia International Airport, where dozens of evacuation flights have landed since Aug. 28.
“We are humbled to play a role in this historic resettlement mission,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel. “These evacuees are being welcomed to the United States with compassionate care on the first step of their American journey.”
The arrivals are part of the federal program known as Operation Allies Welcome. Philadelphia’s airport and Dulles International Airport in Virginia are the nation’s only points of entry for evacuees, many of whom will continue on to temporary housing at various U.S. military installations.
Passengers arriving in Philadelphia are offered medical evaluation, triage, and treatment from a team that includes health care professionals from several Philadelphia hospitals, members of the City’s Medical Reserve Corps, and EMS providers from the PFD. The PFD also supplies transportation to local hospitals when necessary.
PFD paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) say they are indebted to the many volunteer interpreters who help them communicate with patients in Dari, Pashto, Urdu and Farsi.
“Assisting these Afghan families – and especially the children – has truly been an eye-opening experience,” said Paramedic Capt. Tabitha Boyle. “This is why we become first responders: to help people in need.”
Fire Capt. Devon Richio, who also served as a Marine in Afghanistan, was among the PFD members who helped provide logistics for the airport operation.
“As a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, I took immense pride in being a small part of the operation to assist the relocation of Afghan evacuees,” Richio said. “It was incredible to see the PFD integrate with our federal, state and local partners to positively impact the lives of thousands.”
In addition to medical screenings, evacuees who are cleared by customs are given access to an array of resources and social services provided by government agencies and nonprofits.
Philadelphia International Airport temporarily stopped accepting evacuees on Sept. 11 due to a medical outbreak abroad. The City expects thousands more evacuees to arrive once flights resume in the coming weeks.