By Kellen M. Quigley
Dr. Brian Walters, an EMS physician from Ellicottville, spent several days this past week in Washington, D.C., providing medical support during the state funeral for former President George H.W. Bush.
In addition to County EMS Medical Director for both Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, Walters serves as a member of the National Disaster Medical System’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team.
During the time the public paid their respects to President Bush, NDMS personnel along with U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers stand ready to provide advanced life support and basic medical care to the thousands of people attending the event, and Walters was one of them.
“It’s quite an honor to be a part of something like that,” he said. “When our nation comes together like that to celebrate the life and service of a president — to be a part of that ceremony to honor him — to me, it’s awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time.”
NDMS is a federally administered program that can support communities with medical care, veterinarian care and mortuary assistance during disasters or public health emergencies.
President Bush’s funeral was the third National Special Security Event Walters provided medical support to in the last 18 months. He said he also did a 14-day deployment in October to Hurricane Michael in Florida.
“For things like this that are pre-planned, once it becomes a (NSSE), then they’ll activate certain teams and we’ll be deployed down there for a period of time,” he said. “Once President Bush died, I got notified Saturday afternoon and within 24 hours was in Washington, D.C.”
NDMS teams consist of physicians, nurses, paramedics, fatality management professionals and experienced command and control staff from around the country, Walters said. There are more than 6,000 team members organized into 70 response teams.
Originally from Cheektowaga, Walters began working in the ERs in the Southern Tier about nine years ago and then moved to Ellicottville.
He said he applied to be part of the DMAT team a couple years ago. Because it’s a federal job, he said the application process took several months with background checks to be approved for the team, which is on call every three to four months.
“Everybody has to retain their regular credentials” such as his medical license, Walters explained. Teams also have to attend regular meetings and trainings during the year.
Walters, 40, has lived in Ellicottville for about eight years, and his daughter Jessica, 20, studies astrophysics at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
In addition to his county medical director duties, Walter is a tactical physician on the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team (SRT) and Medical Director for the county jail. He’s dual board certified in both Emergency Medicine and EMS.
“That all gives me a lot of background for what we had been doing the past few days,” he said.
Providing medical care during emergencies and special events, such as Bush’s funeral, is two-fold, Walters said. First, there’s providing medical support to the government or law enforcement agencies on the Capitol grounds, and second, they’re there to respond to any emergencies that may occur during the week, such as someone suddenly falling ill.
“I think it’s one of those things that goes on behind the scenes that no one really knows about,” he said. “All our medical equipment gets shipped there and within a short time we’re assembled and providing care in those times of need.”
For national security reasons, Walters said he couldn’t disclose where exactly he was or who he interacted with, but he could say he was on site around the Capitol and in the vicinity of all the congressmen, dignitaries and officials seen on TV.
After being in D.C. Monday and Tuesday while Bush’s body laid in state in the Rotunda and Wednesday during the funeral at the National Cathedral, Walters returned home Thursday with another once-in-a-lifetime experience with DMAT to look back on.
“For me it was that sense of honor, that sense of service and being a part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. “It’s giving back to our local community and to the country as a whole that makes me proud to serve in that way.”