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    Air Guardsman helps NYC Medical Examiner at COVID-19 epicenter

    Air Guardsman helps NYC Medical Examiner at COVID-19 epicenter

    Courtesy Photo | New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner employees, New York Army National...... read more read more



    Story by Lt. Col. Alyson Teeter 

    Washington Air National Guard

    Lt. Col. Bruce Simpson, the Headquarters Washington Air National Guard’s Director of Force Support, started his journey in the fight against COVID-19 by supporting the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantine on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., in March.

    By early April he was on a different COVID-19 mission: supporting the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

    The NYC OCME said they needed help with the overwhelming number of COVID-19 fatalities in late March, said Simpson. Overflow morgue facilities had been set up around the city to address the increasing numbers and they needed people to help staff them.

    As a civilian, Simpson serves as a part time medicolegal investigator within the Health and Human Services Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, or DMORT. According to HHS, DMORTs are deployed at the request of local authorities to quickly and accurately identify victims and support local mortuary services.

    “When people die in mass fatality events, their family members have a real need to have their loved ones treated in a professional, dignified and timely manner,” Simpson said. “It takes a large and diverse team to handle the many different aspects of crisis recovery.”

    Simpson was part of the first DMORT rotation in New York and the team split up throughout the city to boroughs like Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. His first week was spent at a Manhattan overflow facility working as a night shift supervisor for intake, identification, tracking, and cold storage operations.

    When Simpson arrived at the overflow facility, he was surprised by how quickly it was built.

    “I was amazed at how the large OCME overflow facility where I worked was built in five days,” he said. “Picture a place where many refrigerated semi trailers are parked with a large loading dock and a big tent-style work facility with full HVAC, lighting, computer networks. The bulk of it was built in two days and then by five days it was fully operational.”

    After a week working in Manhattan, Simpson transferred to Brooklyn where he worked in a similar capacity at a dedicated overflow morgue operation using a converted warehouse.

    While helping the OCME in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Simpson also worked with military servicemembers, including New York Army National Guard mortuary affairs specialists and combat engineering teams. Military mortuary affairs specialists are trained to work with fatalities but combat engineers are not. Simpson took this as an opportunity to mentor the engineers through a difficult situation.

    “They didn't have any experience with this type of situation so I basically prepped them with pre-incident stress talks. They did well,” he said.

    Simpson noted that his military experience helps when he’s coordinating with the National Guard in his DMORT role. Frank Sebastian, Team Commander of FEMA Region 10 DMORT, agreed and said that Simpson’s military leadership experience enhances the effectiveness of DMORT when responding to a mass casualty event.

    “We operate under the Incident Command System protocols, a very directed chain of command. I think having that knowledge as well as being a leader in the military is a great transference of skills,” Sebastian said.

    Sebastian and Simpson have worked together on DMORT since 2013 and COVID-19 was one of many crises they have responded to throughout their time on DMORT. For some of these responses Simpson wore the military uniform and others he wore the khaki HHS uniform.

    “For the 2014 State Route 530 Landslide near Oso, Washington, I was in a military uniform, and I worked closely with the DMORT, FSRT (Fatality Search and Recovery Team) and the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office,” he said. “In 2017, I deployed to Florida and Puerto Rico for HHS missions after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and I deployed this year to San Diego to assist with an HHS DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) medical quarantine mission.”

    “I am simply glad that I can do my part to help take some of the stress out of very challenging situations,” Simpson added.

    The opportunity to join the HHS DMORT came to fruition due to Simpson’s military experience.

    After serving on active duty for eight years, Simpson joined the Air Force Reserve at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where he commanded a specialized Air Force services team that frequently deployed to the DoD Aerial Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del. That is where he first gained experience working in the mass fatality response environment.

    When he started in his current position with the WA ANG as a military liaison to civil authorities for FEMA Region 10, Simpson hosted joint training events with civil and military authorities, to include mass fatality exercises and mission briefs.

    “For several years I was conducting joint training events at Camp Murray where I would bring together representatives from FSRT, King County, Pierce County, Portland, DMORT, Public Health Service, and Department of Health,” he said. “After we had done this for a couple years, the DMORT representative said, ‘You know, you're really knowledgeable, you should think about joining DMORT. If there's a crisis you just figure out which uniform you're going to put on.’”

    After accepting the challenge from DMORT, Simpson needed additional hands-on medical examiner training in order to apply for the position.

    “Because I had a lot of prior experience at the Dover Port Mortuary, I already understood the basics of autopsies and how the military takes care of its combat fatalities,” he said. “So, then that helped open the door for me to train with the King County Medical Examiner’s office every year.”

    Since 2010, Simpson has teamed up with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office to learn and maintain his on-scene medicolegal death investigator proficiency. The main task that every coroner and medical examiner jurisdiction is responsible for is determining the manner and cause of death, Simpson said. For deaths that occur outside of medical facilities, the on-scene death investigations and subsequent autopsies provide the critical information needed to make these determinations.

    “That was a great qualifier for Bruce’s position with DMORT as a medicolegal investigator. You have to have some experience and training in medical legal investigation,” Sebastian said.

    While keeping his skills sharp, Simpson has built a relationship that is also beneficial for the Washington National Guard. It’s similar to what he learned during the joint training sessions he hosted at Camp Murray.

    “If a major disaster happens in our region, like a large earthquake, it's going to be massive and overwhelming,” he said. “You're going to rely on the connections that you already have to just pick up where you left off and get going. I will be an extension of them to help military folks and understand what the needs are.”

    Simpson and his senior enlisted team have also set up training relationships with the Pierce County, Spokane County and Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Offices. This enabled his team and FSRT members in Washington and Oregon to collaborate with civil authorities and receive very valuable training opportunities.

    He doesn’t know where he’ll go next, but Simpson is always on call to respond to disasters nationwide or at home.

    “Bruce has been a great asset to the team, a great asset to the folks we serve and the American public in a time of disaster,” Sebastian said.



    Date Taken: 05.05.2020
    Date Posted: 05.05.2020 12:52
    Story ID: 369243
    Location: CAMP MURRAY, WA, US
    Hometown: ELLENSBURG, WA, US
    Hometown: NEW YORK, NY, US
    Hometown: SEATTLE, WA, US

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