When an emergency occurs, most people don’t think about things like the island’s stockpile of oxygen — which is where St. John Rescue comes in.
The group’s 14 active responding volunteer members make it their business to know exactly how much oxygen is on island because they are the ones who have to go to St. Thomas each time more is needed, explained SJR training officer Bob Malacarne.
“Currently the only source we — and that includes SJR, Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, EMS, Fire Service and V.I. National Park — have for oxygen is on St. Thomas,” said Malacarne. “The oxygen originates in Miami and is shipped to St. Croix, where it is converted into a gas and shipped to St. Thomas. Each time it is needed, we must travel to St. Thomas to purchase oxygen for medical applications on island.”
“If there is a problem in Miami or on St. Croix, we are out of oxygen,” Malacarne said. “A natural or man-made disaster can deplete our oxygen supply in short order.”
SJR is hoping to change that, and improve emergency response by eliminating the chance of running out of emergency oxygen. The group has written a grant proposal for the purchase of an oxygen generator for St. John, which would be capable of producing oxygen and filling high-pressure oxygen cylinders for all emergency response agencies on the island, according to Malacarne.
While SJR, VINP and EMS always try to keep oxygen in stock, refilling tanks often proves both costly and time-consuming.
“All emergency services agencies need to replenish oxygen supplies as quickly as possible since St. John is an island with no mutual aid assistance available in case of natural or man-made disaster,” according to SJR’s grant proposal. “If we run out of oxygen there is no readily available source of medical oxygen to replenish our supply. Our only source of medical oxygen is located on St Thomas.”
“This privately owned business is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays only,” according to the grant request. “If we require oxygen refills we must wait until the supplier is open for business. The procedure for refilling oxygen bottles takes at least four hours and can take up to 24 hours or more if the vendor has several tanks to fill or if he has run out of oxygen.”
SJR, which responds to about 150 emergency calls each year, projected the total cost of the oxygen generator at $55,865, according the group’s grant. That cost breaks down to $52,000 for the system and then several hundred more for cylinders, manifolds, wall mount brackets and transfill hoses.
After the initial investment, however, the oxygen generator would reduce oxygen supply costs by 80 percent for the island’s first responders, according to the grant.
“This system produces medical grade oxygen in accordance with the USP specifications and will reduce oxygen supply costs by at least 80 percent,” according to the SJR grant request. “Less than one kilowatt-hour of energy is required to fill one ‘M’ size oxygen cylinder and all transportation, handling, and labor costs involved in transporting tanks to St Thomas — including a $50 round trip fee for the barge — will be eliminated.”
The generator would also eliminate the uncertainty related to obtaining oxygen from St. Thomas, via St. Croix and Miami.
“Making oxygen and having the capacity to fill our own tanks on site eliminates the uncertainty and logistics of traveling to St Thomas for oxygen replenishment,” according to the grant proposal. “With this system in place emergency responders are also assured that in the event of a disaster — we are located in an earthquake and hurricane zone — our oxygen supply will not be in jeopardy. The system itself can also be transported for use at a disaster site.”
SJR does not have the funds to purchase the oxygen generator; the group already relies on donations to cover the $11,000 difference between its annual expenses and government funding. With VINP, EMS, Fire Department and MKSCHC operating in similar cash-strapped circumstances, the island’s emergency equipment is quickly deteriorating, according to SJR’s grant proposal.
For more information about St. John Rescue or the group’s oxygen generator grant proposal check out www.stjohnrescue.com.