Pitt Meadows volunteer firefighter Al McGee has seen more than his fair share of tragedy in 11 years on the job.
As a first responder to dealing with medical issues and car accidents, McGee knows the importance time plays in saving a life.
As an emergency room and pediatric registered nurse with Fraser Health, dealing with adversity is once again a paramount part of the job.
Now, he will get a chance to put his skills to work in Nepal, where he will spend a month helping rebuild a nation that was devastated following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck 80 kilometres east of the town of Pokhara on April 25.
An estimated 7,500 people died after the initial quake and the aftershocks, including a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Namche Bazar and Mount Everest, by the Nepal-China border.
“I don’t think anyone can be truly ready to be witness to something like this,” said McGee. “But experience helps, working with the fire department and health care.”
McGee is working as a volunteer with GlobalMedic, a non-governmental organization that specializes in disaster relief efforts with initial rescue teams, emergency medical units and water purification kits.
As well as helping in Nepal, GlobalMedic has teams in areas like Northern Iraq, the Ukraine, and the Congo.
“This is my first opportunity to deploy internationally,” said McGee, who has worked as a volunteer coordinator with GlobalMedic for the past three years.
“In my time in Nepal, I’m going to work on water purification and shelter relief as monsoon season is about to start. It’s critical to help get these systems in place as so many people are still struggling.”
The United Nations Refugee estimates almost three million people are without a home. Entire villages lay in ruins. Roads are impassable. Getting aid to those in need has been difficult at the best of times.
“It’s going to be many, many years before things there are anywhere near being back to normal. The challenge is accessibility in the rural areas. So many roads are cut off,” said McGee.
It’s easy to forget the scope of the tragedy in Nepal, he added, because of today’s 24-hour news cycle. But he’s hoping his work with GlobalMedic can play a part in the country’s long road to recovery.
Work commitments in the past haven’t allowed him the chance to volunteer overseas, but he’s thankful for the support from Fraser Health and the Pitt Meadows fire department to allow him to contribute.
“Taking a month away from work is really challenging, but I’m excited to be able to go and make some sort of a difference and represent the local community here,” he said.
As well, the volunteer firefighter said the disaster half a world away should serve as a reminder to local residents to be prepared in case of a natural disaster. He said everyone should have at least enough food, water and other supplies to last 72 hours.
McGee said he’s also hoping his experience in Nepal will allow him to respond to other needs with GlobalMedic, which also does fire response training in developing countries.
Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate can go to www.globalmedic.ca.