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Wakefield man assists with Haitian relief efforts


David Gagnon serves with USCG aboard Tahoma


January 21, 2010
WAKEFIELD — Morale is high on board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Tahoma as its crew works to support the people of Haiti who are reeling from the massive earthquake on Jan. 12, according to a Wakefield man who is serving on board the ship.

Wakefield resident David Gagnon, the ship's Main Prop Chief and Command Chief, said the Tahoma arrived at the island nation 48 hours after the quake, which news reports estimate killed 200,000 people. The Tahoma was the third cutter to arrive on scene. Gagnon, the husband of Wakefield School Board Chair Janet Gagnon, was interviewed from the Tahoma via satellite phone on Tuesday.

The 275-foot Portsmouth-based cutter and its crew have several duties. The ship is providing a launching pad and refueling point for Navy and Coast Guard helicopters that are transporting people from the mainland to the ship and then back to Haiti's hospitals. Using helicopters allows rescuers to avoid the country's congested streets.

The 100-member crew provides medical assistance to quake victims, assists Haiti's Coast Guard with security, and provides logistical and engineering support.

"We're doing everything we can and we wish we could do more," said Gagnon. "It makes you feel good to help human beings in need."

One thing the crew is particularly proud of is they were able to deliver a baby boy aboard the cutter. All the victims and the Haitian Coast Guard have been very appreciative for the help, said Gagnon.

The vast majority of people whom the crew has assisted are treated at the Haitian Coast Guard base on the mainland. Victims require everything from medication to amputations, said Gagnon. Navy and Army personnel are also actively involved in saving injured and sick Haitians, he said.

Once victims are stabilized, they are brought to the cutter for hydration, made as comfortable as possible, and then flown to the hospital.

All of the crewmembers are helping victims with their medical needs. Everyone on the crew can do CPR and first aid but are learning to do more on the fly.

Normally, Gagnon's job is to do engineering work as the prop chief. As the command chief he is the primary liaison between the enlisted men and the captain.

He has been in the Coast Guard for about 18 years. During that time, he was sent to New York City to deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and he also assisted with the recovery effort after the Egypt Air 990 disaster, the plane that crashed into the ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket in 1999.

"This is the first time I've seen such a catastrophic event," said Gagnon. "It's very sad — a lot of people are hurt. We can see Port-au-Prince on the horizon and there is a lot of fire and smoke"

The Tahoma's crew has been able to communicate with loved ones via e-mail. Gagnon says crewmembers are grateful for the support people have given them and their families. It's unclear when the mission in Haiti will be over, he said.

Local relief efforts

First Congregational Church of Ossipee has a long-standing relationship with people and organizations in Haiti. For the past 10 years, a team from FCCO has gone to Haiti every year. Its team was planning to leave Feb. 2 for 12 days, but plans are being adjusted due to the current crisis. Last Sunday, the team updated the FCCO community regarding its friends in Haiti, prayed for all involved in the crisis, and received a special offering for Haiti.

They work with an organization called Partners With Haiti (www.partnerswithhaiti.org) to see that the funds are faithfully distributed. If you are a Facebook member, you may also search for the group "Partners with Haiti" for real time conversations related to the crisis. If you would like to give a monetary contribution through FCCO, checks may be made out to "FCCO" with "Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund" in the comment line, and mail to 50 Route 16B, Center Ossipee, NH 03814. One hundred percent of the funds received will go to Haiti. The team is also accepting physical donations including: summer weight clothing, over-the-counter medical supplies, and sewing supplies.

Red Cross

People can donate in support of the relief effort in Haiti at www.redcross.org or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS. Mobile donors can text "Haiti" to 90999 to make a $10 contribution.

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