Prairieville fire chief called to duty in Haiti

Staff reports
Mark Stewart discusses the tsunami disaster relief effort in American Samoa during a conference at the Prairieville Fire Station Wednesday.

PRAIRIEVILLE – Fire Chief Mark Stewart has been called to duty in Haiti to assist with the recovery effort in the earthquake-stricken country.

Stewart is a member of a 25-man federal Disaster Portable Morgue Unit Team operating under the auspices of the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services. The team, comprised of specialists from around the country, can be deployed within a matter of days anywhere in the world.

Stewart was put on alert Jan. 30. By Monday, Feb. 1, he was in Washington waiting to be flown to Haiti. The team arrived in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, on Tuesday and began setting up their facility. They are expected to be in Haiti at least two weeks.

“We haven’t been off the airport grounds yet,” Stewart said by phone Thursday. “We’re working from the airport as our base of operations.”

Stewart said conditions are gradually improving in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake centered on the coast near Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12. Some of the major problems now are dealing with the oppressive heat – Stewart said the heat index Feb. 4 was 106 degrees.

As a member of the DPMU team, Stewart was called to American Samoa in October 2009 to aid the island nation after it was struck by a tsunami. Stewart also worked at the site of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in Texas looking for remains and debris from the Columbia space shuttle break up in 2003 and in Louisiana after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Stewart said he appreciates the support of the fire district’s board of directors and his staff, which allows him to serve on the DPMU team in times of crisis.