From driving into the eye of Hurricane Wilma to provide medical
relief work in Mexico ..
Rescuing tourists trapped overnight from a flooding river..
And over viewing and providing logistical support for emergency
readiness disaster simulations in Belmopan ..
to working with the "youth at risk" BAD CATS program..
Its all in a weeks work for the Belize Disaster and Rescue Response
Team ( B.DARRT)
While darkness still shrouded their base of operations at Ian
Anderson's Caves Branch Jungle Lodge and the eye of Hurricane Wilma
still pounded destruction over the northern Yucatan, the Belize
Disaster and Rescue Response Team loaded up and departed for Mexico
at 4 am on October 23. Over a nine day period, 16 members of the all
volunteer Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team worked to bring
medical and sanitation service to the destruction left behind by
hurricane Wilma in one of the worst hit areas of Mexico. Two others,
including rescue team rescue director Bruce Hagen flew into Belize
from the US and joined the team in Mexico. Abel Garcia, guiding
manager at Caves Branch Jungle Lodge and rescue team leader reflects
on their 9 day medical mission: " There was so much damage and
destruction. Many of our team members were providing medical care
and attending to the sanitation needs of their water supply while
others were unloading and distributing food from as many 8 semi
trailers of relief supplies. It was exhausting work, but I am just
glad that we were able to assist in any way that we could. I know
they have done the same for us in Belize in the past." For nine days,
the all volunteer Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team ( DARRT )
worked tirelessly to assist our neighbors to the north.
Then just 3 days after dragging themselves back to Belize, they were
at it again.
At 8:30 am on Wednesday, November 2, Theo Cochei of the Parrot Nest
lodge in Bullet Tree,Cayo, realized that two of her guests had not
been returned by their tour operator from a days outing the day
The two guests, Stephen Scheele and Christine Szala from Highland
Indiana, USA , along with 4 other tourist and 3 guiding personnel
from a San Ignacio, had been stranded overnight in the jungle by
flooding waters of Roaring Creek. Theo had received a phone call from
the tour operator the evening before saying that their clients would
be home shortly .. but later on in the night and into the morning
hours it was agonizingly painful realizing they had not been
returned. After a number of desperate phone calls the next morning,
she finally called Caves Branch to report the incident.
Cocchi comments: "Had I have know that evening the real
circumstances, I would have taken action then, but I believe there
was some lack of information and communication. This event went
without injuries but could have been
worse. I think that at the very next meeting of tour guides and
hotel associations, this matter need to be addressed, safety on
trips, having phones for communication and also the matter of dealing
with the rescue at the very moment it is realized that there is a
need for help, not hours later when everyone is put through very
unnecessary stresses, eg. having to spend the night in the jungle and
pouring rain with the threat of rising rivers, this is an experience
that need not have happened if proper communication and actions to
call for help."
Within 30 minutes of receiving Theo's phone call for help, the team
was on their way to the flooded Roaring Creek location.
Along with the all volunteer team, both rescue and medical directors
of the Belize DARRT, Bruce Hagen and Dr. Keith Brown, accompanied the
rescue effort. Both directors were at Caves Branch upgrading rescue
and medical certification for all Caves Branch guides, which is
mandatory on an annual basis for all of Ian Andersons guides.
Once at the riverside, with swollen waters reaching up to 6 feet
above their normal levels and waves surging two feet in height, the
team set to work.
A number of the team members loaded equipment into their kayaks which
they used to cross the river to the trapped tourists who had been
out in the jungle all night in torrential rains without proper
protection. The team members first responsibility was to determine
the safety and medical condition of the 6 trapped tourists and their
3 guides. From that far side they quickly rigged a double lined
hiliner tyrolienne set up as was simultaneously rigged on the near
side of the river.
The first team member to be sent to the far side using the system was
Dr. Brown who ensured all were medically stable.
Then, one by one, each of the trapped tourists and guides were put
into harnesses and taken across the high flooding river on the
rigging, set many feet above the still raging waters below.
Within 2.5 hours of arriving, the rescue team had all tourist and
their 3 guides across the river to safety, provided medical attention
where necessary and they were delivered back in safety to San
Ignacio. All 9 persons were then in good health and in the safety of
It was the consensus of the rescue team that there was no reason at
all that the tourists and their guides should of had to endure that
harrowing overnight experience trapped by the flooding river. Walter
Santos, team leader of this specific rescue stated, " All tourism
operations in the country know we are here, willing and able. I don't
understand why we weren't called yesterday afternoon. If we had
been, all these people would have spent last night in a warm bed
instead of being trapped in the jungle enduring pouring rains all
night, they weren't prepared for "that experience". In the end, all
that matters is that we got them out safely. "
Then, for the third time in the same week, the team is called upon
again. This time at the Western Regional Hospital in Belmopan.
On friday, November 4th, The Belize Disaster and Rescue Response
Team, The Belize Institute of Tropical & Wilderness Medicine, Search
& Rescue and Ian Anderson's Caves Branch organization were assisting
Western regional Hospital, the Belmopan Police & Fire Departments and
BERT in conducting a mass casualty disaster simulation exercise.
This exercise was to test the readiness of Belmopan area emergency
agencies to manage an event involving more than twenty simultaneous
patients, such as might occur in a bus - vehicle road accident. The
combined efforts of the Institute, DARRT and Ian Anderson provided
technical expertise in design of the exercise, "umpire" supervision
during the simulation and a comprehensive evaluation and
recommendation plan for system performance improvements. About the
scenario, Anderson says: "The purpose of the simulation was to
realize any shortcomings of all these agencies working together in a
cohesive organization. With 25 injured and screaming victims played
by volunteer students from the Belmopan Comprehensive School, 3
gallons of blood and another 15 volunteers who's job it was to make
it tough on the responding organization .. they certainly did learn
of any shortcoming very quickly. The simulation was a total success
from that point of view". Ian Andersons organizations will be
providing each agency with a full critique and suggested ongoing
training program to beef up any areas of concern. This training will
be led by the training arm of DARRT, "The Belize Institute of
Tropical / Wilderness Medicine, Search / Rescue".
Ian Anderson of the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge started training
efforts for the first national rescue team over 10 years ago and
along with Bruce Hagen, rescue director, and Dr. Keith Brown, medical
director, have continued to be the sole supporters of this effort
along with the "all volunteer" members of the teams. No government
funding is received. The training wing of the rescue team is the
"Belize Institute of Tropical and Wilderness Medicine, Search and
Rescue" a non profit organization which has provided both medical and
rescue training to not only Belizeans over the past 9 years, but
also to developing rescue teams in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica,
Honduras, Guatemala, The United States and most recently, to the
national armed forces of Greece.
Participants who attend training in Belize have been from 16
different countries from around the world and many have returned for
In addition to the development of Belizes only internationally
trained rescue team, Ian Anderson also co sponsored the recent
Belize 2 K2 expedition which returned from Northern Pakistan two
months ago and was headed by the both Bruce Hagen and Dr. Keith Brown
along with Walter Santos from Belize and Lynwen Griffiths, all of
whom are members of B.D.A.R.R.T. , the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge and
the Belize Institute of Tropical and Wilderness Medicine, Search &
Rescue. A number of the other medical specialists that accompanied
the K2 expedition had also been trained in Belize by the "Institute".
Anderson says " We have created a truly internationally accepted
training organization in Belize that is in demand throughout the
world and that has not only provided training in Belize for belizeans
but also in many other countries. In 2006 we will be supporting
another Belize expedition to K2 with more Belizeans as members of the
team and will be providing medical support for a remote mountain
clinic in that region for a 4 month period. Due to the efforts of our
Institute directors and all of our team members like Walter Santos,
Belize is now known as a caring, supporting country throughout the
nether regions of Pakistan. Belize should be proud of this
organization and all of its volunteer members".
During 2007, arrangements for a cross cultural exchange in training
are being planned in order to bring a number of K2 high altitude
mountain guides to Belize to take guide training in our jungles
during the winter months and then to send a number of Belizean jungle
guides to K2 for high altitude mountain training. This, in an effort
to expand the minds, ability and training levels of our Belizean
guides and their counterparts from Pakistan, not to mention the cross
cultural experience our Belizean guides will receive.
Since returning from his K2 expedition, Walter Santos has made many
presentations to youth groups and schools on his adventure as well as
working with and promoting the highly successful BAD CATS, youth at
risk program, also initiated and supported by Ian Anderson and Caves
Branch Jungle Lodge.
If this the events of of this past week had challenged and exhausted
Ian Anderson, Caves Branch guides and The Belize Disaster and Rescue
Response Team members, you wouldn't have know it !
On November 5th, the day following the Belmopan mass casualty
disaster simulation exercise, Ian, a number of the Caves Branch/
DARRT members who volunteer their time with the BAD CATS program, had
22 youths at risk, out for the day, touring the Old Belize Museum,
lunching on the dockside and then they had all the kids, compete in
their very first Sand Castle building contest.
Anderson says: "its amazing how little it takes to get these kids out
of their normal behavior. Its just time, energy and attention ..
Something the kids don't normally get. The kids had no realization
what "sand castle building" was .. but after a few instruction, they
went wild. One of the sand castles built was a mayan city that
spanned over 40 feet of beach front, connected together with
causeways. Each team not only had to create the sand castles but had
to create the story and history behind them .. I had no idea these
kids has so much going on in their minds. All they need is a bit of
guidance, support, attention and mentorship and thats what we are
trying to provide." Ian expresses his gratitude to Francis Woods the
Old Belize Museum for sponsoring the day.
The BAT CATS program has been a stunning success in working with the
Belmopan Comprehensive School. Last year they had a 92 % success
rate in working with underacheiving students and through mentorship
and an encouraging program, assisting the students to graduate their
school year. In 2006, the BAD CATS program will be continuing their
program with the Belmopan Comprehensive school and will integrate up
to 100 learning challenged children into their program.
After returning from K2, Lynwen Griffiths of Caves Branch, who
accompanied Walter Santos on his 3 month expedition to K2, spent the
next two months editing a one hour documentary on Walter's expedition
to K2. Named appropriately "Belize 2 K2", the documentary is ready
to be aired.
In order to continue providing social services like Ian Anderson and
the dozens of volunteers have created, one component is always in
short demand .. and that is funding.
In order to continue operating the Belize Disaster and Rescue
Response Team, to continue supporting the international efforts of
Belizeans expanding their minds and talents on next years K2
expedition and to continue supporting the Bad Cats "youth at learning
risk" program, a fund raiser is being held on Thursday evening,
December 1, 2005, at the ballroom of the Biltmore Plaza in Belize
During this fundraiser, the world premier of the documentary "Belize
2 K2" will be shown to all participants. Starting at 6:00 pm, a full
hor d'eurve buffet, cash bar will be held followed by the showing of
"Belize 2 K2". In addition, a full floor auction will be held during
intermission with dozens of spectacular merchandise, holidays and
adventure activities to be bid for by the audience. The most
important part of the evening will be knowing that you will be
supporting many worthy causes.
The price will be $250.00 per couple or $125.00 per person.
For more information or to reserve your tickets please call Caves
Branch at 501 822 2800 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations would be gratefully accepted by persons wanting to support
the efforts but not able to attend.