The Westchester Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a group of volunteers who are on permanent high alert, training on a regular basis to be ready in case dire developments threaten or harm the public. The program was established in Westchester in 2003 as part of a nationwide readiness response following the 9/11
“It could be a health emergency, a natural disaster, or any mass-casualty incident,” says Caren Halbfinger, director of Public Affairs for the Westchester County Department of Health. “MRC members will be right there, working alongside emergency-services and public-health professionals.”
Some of the current 43 MRC members are credentialed medical professionals who are qualified to assist in medical evaluation, as well as in educating and screening patients at a triage center during an emergency. These members, often medical students, active or retired doctors and nurses, receive specialized training in areas such as psychological first aid and mass-casualty triage procedures.
But the MRC is not limited to medical professionals. There’s also “a need for people with organizational, office, and translation skills,”
Corps members engage in regular emergency drills with first responders across the county. These can include a point-of-distribution drill, in which members practice giving out medication rapidly at aid stations in the event of a widespread disease outbreak, or mass-sheltering operation drills, to prepare for a natural disaster.
Volunteer John Ohnmacht says the MRC requires just a couple of hours per month for meetings, training, and drills. But the the work is essential and fulfilling.
Get Started: Visit www.westchestergov.com/mrc. There are no prerequisites and members should expect to participate in regular training drills.
Similar Ops: There are many volunteer fire departments and volunteer ambulance corps across the county.
John Ohnmacht 65, Katonah
Helping people in times of dire need is not just a passion for Westchester Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteer member John Ohnmacht — it’s also a family affair. Ohnmacht and his wife, Peggy, worked as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) for years before joining the volunteer group.
A year after joining the MRC, the Ohnmachts were activated to assist displaced residents in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and they spent two weeks in the area, running a shelter.
These days, Ohnmacht devotes a few hours each month to training in emergency preparedness. “The Ohnmachts have been two of the MRC’s most dedicated volunteers,” says Caren Halbfinger, director of Public Affairs for the Westchester County Department of Health. “We rely on them to share their knowledge and enthusiasm as we continue to recruit and train new members and grow the MRC.”
Ohnmacht, who works by day as a radiology and cardiology administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, and Peggy, a full-time nurse, rely on each other’s expertise and support each other, he says. “In New Orleans, Peggy was able to provide medical support, and my being an admin helped , too.”