Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Reinhold Niebuhr | Main | Home in Brooklyn »

September 17, 2005

Drinking with DMORT

We finally caught up with two guys from Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams in an airport bar in Baton Rouge. We talked about Katrina, recovery tactics, and disaster politics, but I'm not going to repeat what they told me. These guys are heroes and the last thing I want to do is get them in trouble.

One of the most remarkable things about DMORT is that it's an all-volunteer agency. The 1200 DMORT team members come from a variety of backgrounds including law enforcement, EMS, medicine, physical anthropology, and funerary services. DMORT members are on call year-round to respond to mass fatality incidents at a moment's notice.

"Mike" from the airport bar is a retired firefigher who was headed back to the Midwest after spending several days searching people who drowned in their New Orleans homes. Mike is already veteran DMORT volunteer. His first deployment was to the WTC after 9/11.

Mike didn't set out to join DMORT, he just had a general plan to volunteer for a federal agency after he retired. DMORT was the group that got back to him.

He talked about his DMORT training. All potential volunteers have to go through extensive training, as do their non-deploying spouses. Husbands and wives are taught how to support their partners when they come home from their deployments. They're told to expect nightmares and emotional outbursts. Veterans try to explain to the newbie couples about the ambivalence of spent, traumatized volunteers who still yearn to be back in the disaster zone with their buddies.

For Mike, DMORT was a big adjustment after decades firefighting. Before, it was an all-out struggle to save lives and protect property, now it's a methodical accounting of those who couldn't be saved. But Mike finds the work very rewarding. DMORT is like a family, Mike explained. The guy you're working with could be an internationally recognized forensic expert, or a local firefighter, but everyone is equal and everyone is committed to each other and to the mission.

DMORT has a special relationship with the deceased. No matter how many casualties there are, and no matter what their condition, every body is the remains of an individual human who needs care -- not just removal and identification.

"We talk to them," he said quietly. "We say, 'We're here, Grandma, we're going to take good care of you.'"


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Drinking with DMORT:


Uh. Reading that last line hit me like a fist.

I could have done without it myself.

"We talk to them," he said quietly. "We say, 'We're here, Grandma, we're going to take good care of you.'"
pity that FEMA's decided to outsource to Bush cronies Kenyon International, which doesn't seem to have the same caring attitude towards the deceased as DMORT :(

Enjoyed the "insider" perspective. Touching account.

Yes, this organization is good and all that in theory, but do you really wanna know what goes on for the most part when they get "deployed". Oh yes, they all like to use nifty, catch-phrase words like that, mostly wannabe's who feel the need to validate themselves in some manner. (Not counting the yearly "convention" trips these people take to congregate, listen to well paid presenters and "network" with similar beings where they basically attend meetings on what if situations that go out the window when something actually happens and then party before once again returning to reality.)
The federal government pays these volunteers extremely well to go off on these little vacations in a knee jerk reaction. Yes, I said vacations. Cookouts, alcohol, sex. Sounds like a vacation to me! They usually do not have to get into the worst parts of whatever disaster precipitated their call to arms as it were, so most of the time, these people are just hanging out, taking field trips to see the local sites of the region, not doing a lot, sitting inside guarded perimeters or some type of secure lodging basically having parties with other people like them who have no freaking lives in the real world. In addition these people usually place a strain on their loved ones, co-workers and the like. They screw up what isn't broken to pretend they are repairing something that is not capable of being repaired. Some logic.
Yeah, the conditions aren't the best in the world, but THEY VOLUNTEERED to go, so they should not complain. Hell for about 5,000 bucks a pop I'll sleep in a hut too. Hurry up and get there and then hardly do anything at the expense of taxpayers. Since they fall under the federal gov't, their employers HAVE to let them go for however long, pay them, and then the volunteers get paid again by the Feds...nifty little set up indeed. Then they come back to the real world, tell everyone how valuable their little groups are and pat themselves on their backs and smile all the way to the bank. Then cry all the way to the nearest shrink's office to help cope with the trauma they have witnessed, usually on the dime of the insurance of their employer. Unreal.
What you have here are a lot of personalities such as overgrown boy and girl scouts in their cute little uniforms combined with shriners, jaycees, and any other sad group of people who once again have no real lives so they seek out other's like them to join up with.
With this whole Katrina debacle, it should be realized when you let non-military people have any involvment, it screws things up greatly, so disband all these quasi-government, overpaid, overrated groups of civilians, take the money that is thrown away on them, put it in the hands of the military who are already paid to deal with issues and go from there.
I was "lucky" enough to visit ones such "deployment" site recently in one of the Katrina lashed states, and everything above I witnessed with my own eyes. My employer will not let me report on this, yet I have my First Amendment guarantee alive and well on here.

The above comment just goes to show that anyone can make a judgement about something they know nothing about and rant a rave like they are an authority. As the wife of a DMORT member for over 20 years, I can assure you that they are a well trained, dedicated and most respectful of the dead. It takes a special type person to work in the DMAT and DMORT field.Don't be so quick to judge somthing you know little to NOTHING about. One encounter at the Katrina scene does not make an expert.

The comments to this entry are closed.