Nick Mrzlak and Vince Moffitt were part of first emergency response team with Team Rubicon
FARMINGTON — Two local men trained as first responders are helping with the recovery effort in Nepal.
The country, located between China and India, was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25. Recent reports of the resulting devastation include estimates that more than 6,000 people have died.
Farmington residents Nick Mrzlak and Vince Moffitt were part of the first emergency response team from Team Rubicon, an organization whose volunteers are military veterans and first responders whose primary mission is providing immediate disaster relief in the time between the event and the arrival of conventional aid organizations.
Both men were dispatched on Sunday for a mission the organization has dubbed, “Operation: Tenzing.” Teams were conducting assessments and medical operations in the villages of Kalinchowk and Dhumthang on Thursday, according to a posting on the Team Rubicon Twitter account.
Mrzlak is a Farmington Fire Department battalion chief who served as a Navy corpsman and Moffitt is a retired battalion chief with the department. Moffitt is now an incident management team chief official with Team Rubicon.
Also traveling from the Four Corners area is Breaux Burns, who is a member of the Durango Fire Department. They are among 31 members from Team Rubicon responding to the disaster.
Mrzlak is serving as a team leader for the operation and was unavailable for an interview on Thursday because he was providing medical services in villages outside of Katmandu.
Moffitt, a taskforce leader for the operation, said on Thursday the team is based out of Katmandu and team members are being transported to areas east of the capital city.
“We’re seeing a lot of destruction,” he said, adding that Katmandu has been receiving a great deal of aid, but many remote villages that have been nearly wiped out are receiving little to no assistance.
Because team members come from the military and have first responder experience, they are prepared to provide help and they can be transported to communities where they provide services for a number of days, Moffitt said.
The group is also collaborating with local doctors to provide medical aid. At this stage, he said, the trauma has decreased and medical personnel are seeing more cases of illness which could be attributed to a lack of basic hygiene services.
He added that the people are desperate and, although they need medical aid, they are more concerned with locating food and water.
“It makes your heart go out to these people,” Moffitt said.
Team members are also finding the bodies of people who died in the earthquake, he said.
“It’s very sad. There’s different levels of decomposition,” Moffitt said.
David Burke, Director of Operations for Team Rubicon, said Mrzlak is using accrued leave to volunteer his services in Nepal.
It was no surprise Mrzlak was called to respond, Burke said, because he also helped with recovery efforts in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2013 typhoon that struck the Philippines.
Burke added that although Farmington is located far from these world events, the lessons Mrzlak learns from the experience cannot be taught in the classroom. The level of knowledge Mrzlak acquires, he said, is “invaluable.”
“The lessons he is learning there will benefit Farmington,” he said.
According to an April 28 post on the Team Rubicon blog, besides providing medical services, some team members are using unmanned aerial vehicles to provide visual assessments of areas deeply impacted by the earthquake.
The data is being used by medical teams to identify areas that require immediate service. The maps and information generated by the visual assessment team are also being shared with personnel from the United Nations and other relief organizations.