As a member of a Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Steve Martin, of New Tampa, is used to working under difficult conditions.
So it was not a shock when Martin, a physician assistant, traveled to New York two weeks after Superstorm Sandy and found himself working in a makeshift hospital located on a soccer field.
In fact, it was more comfortable than some of the temporary facilities he's worked in, Martin said. For one, it wasn't muddy like most places the team is deployed.
"And it was softer than a parking lot," Martin said.
Martin, 58, has been a member of the FL-5 disaster team based in Fort Lauderdale since he lived there in 2001.
The federal team made up of about 50 doctors, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurses and paramedics, gets little notice before the call comes from the Department of Health and Human Services' National Disaster Medical System. This time, Martin learned he was being deployed three hours beforehand.
"We were actually deployed … just before Thanksgiving," Martin said. "It was a very, very massive response because there was so much need. We were assigned to Long Beach, New York and they were very heavily damaged, with flooding being the major problem."
Entire neighborhoods on Long Island had been washed out and cut off from everything. Not only was there no electricity, but no sanitary sewers or running water.
"They had no emergency room anymore," Martin said. "We were providing medical care until they were able to get back on their feet. We saw everything from heart attacks and trauma to colds and flu."
Martin managed to get out to survey the damage.
"The saddest part was seeing people's possessions dragged out into the yards and the street, from flat-screen televisions to bicycles, furniture and clothes," Martin said. "Imagine seeing everything you own strung all over the neighborhood.
"It was all ruined, mile after mile, mountains of people's lives."
While there, Martin connected with a woman he knew 35 years ago in Fort Lauderdale. She now lives a few blocks from the makeshift hospital. She rode out the storm in her attic with her cats and was living in someone's basement weeks later.
"Many still had no place to live and probably didn't through Christmas," Martin said.
The hours were long and the work was hard but it gave Martin a change from his daily job as an associate professor at South University in Tampa. The work also gives him a sense of accomplishment, he said.
That feeling sometimes extends out to those he works with as a volunteer at the Brandon Outreach Clinic.
Deborah Meegan, executive director of the Brandon Outreach Clinic, said having a member from a national disaster team on her staff as a volunteer gives everyone in the operation a sense of pride.
"Steve was in the trenches in New York. I know he felt really good that he was able to make that difference when everybody was dazed and confused," Meegan said. "When I came to work and found he had been deployed, it made us feel a little part of it. A little part of us was there helping."