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LEI provides aid to Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

WASHINGTON, DC — In the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations sent support teams to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to provide critical assistance. LEI deployed two Quick Reaction Teams of about 25 members each. The team members contributed to relief efforts from evacuating residents, to mapping affected areas, to airport security and protecting other emergency responders.

Photo: Two men stand outside house destroyed by hurricane.
Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Patrick Blue assists Search and Rescue personnel on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in September 2017. Forest Service photo.

The first team deployed Sept. 8 to support assessment and recovery efforts following Hurricane Irma. The team provided primary force protection for Search and Rescue Teams and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. When Hurricane Maria hit, the team sheltered in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It continued its mission to support SAR and DMAT efforts throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Sept. 22, immediately after Hurricane Maria passed. It was joined in San Juan by Quick Reaction Team 2 Sept. 24.

Photo: Man in uniform helps family with debris removal.
Forest Service Special Agent Matthew Burningham uses a chainsaw to assist a family with debris removal during a welfare check in Puerto Rico in September 2017. Forest Service photo.

The two LEI teams partnered with a Bureau of Land Management team to support recovery operations throughout the islands. In Yauco, Puerto Rico, their force protection efforts provided security and communications for a hospital and helped evacuate approximately 300 patients. Agency teams also provided assistance for many SAR and DMAT teams as they deployed to several cities and towns. Team members distributed emergency pharmaceuticals, helped evacuate critically ill and injured people, and conducted welfare checks.

Forest Service team members were sometimes the first contact with rescue teams residents had. Law Enforcement Officer Daniel Reardon and Special Agent Matthew Burningham provided the use of a satellite phone to a couple so they could arrange for medical treatment; the use of the phone was the first chance for outside communication for the couple since the hurricane made landfall. While conducting welfare checks and delivering food and water, Forest Service employees also helped families with recovery efforts.

Photo: Two men stand with woman outside house. She is holding a satellite phone.
Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Daniel Reardon and Special Agent Matthew Burningham provide a satellite phone to a couple to assist them with making arrangements for medical treatment in September 2017. This was the first communication access the couple had since the hurricane made landfall. Forest Service photo.

The first team returned from Puerto Rico Sept. 29 and the second returned Oct. 9. During their deployments, the teams performed hundreds of assignments to support recovery efforts. Their work and dedication in support of disaster response efforts contributed to the success of the many SAR, DMAT, and Federal Emergency Management Agency teams, which helped thousands of citizens affected by the hurricanes. To see more photos from the relief efforts, visit the Forest Service Facebook page.