By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Being around disasters and helping those in need is nothing new for Jacki Breininger, who for nearly 37 years worked as a paramedic.
After retiring from the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department in August 2021, Jacki wanted to do more than just be retired, so she joined the American Red Cross Greater Kansas City and Northwest Missouri Chapter.
Because of her medical background she became part of the American Red Cross Disaster Health Services team. As Hurricane Ian headed toward Florida, Jacki arrived at the Red Cross shelter set up at Turner Center arena in Arcadia.
Jacki and her disaster response partner, a registered nurse, provided health care services for around 365 people who had fled their homes and were staying at the shelter. After the storm, some 60 people continued to stay at the shelter.
“I work well under pressure and when the first answer to a problem doesn’t work, I can come up with an alternative quickly. We had a few medical emergencies during the hurricane that we were able to handle,” Jacki said.
Waiting for the storm to arrive was unsettling even though she was confident the Center could withstand the impact.
“We all of sudden heard a gut wrenching bang on the roof. It was part of a metal vent that blew off and hit the other side of the metal roof. There was a roll up door on one end of the building that was breathing with the wind,” Jacki said.
“It sounded like a helicopter was overhead for six hours,” she added.
Jacki was concerned the roll up door at one end of the Center could breach and decided that those staying near it had to move for their own safety.
“They weren’t happy about having to move, but being that I was the only paramedic in the building and I have a background with emergency management, I felt safety was more important than comfort,” she said.
The Center lost power for many hours making the shelter environment difficult.
“This was a very challenging deployment. Going through the storm literally on the edge of the eye was an experience.,” she said.
For three days, the roads were flooded, so they waited for the hurricane to move through, and the water receded.
Jacki and her response partner were on call around the clock for any medical or personal situations.
“The entire deployment was extremely difficult physically and mentally. I know how difficult it was for me, but when I sat with some of the clients and heard their stories, I was heartbroken, yet inspired,” she said.
Jacki said she made a point of being there to listen as the shelter residents talked and she offered comfort and support to them.
“I would hold their hands and often they just wanted a hug,” she said. “I did everything I could to make them feel more comfortable. I hope I touched some individual’s lives as much as they have touched mine.”