Medical Center Staff Volunteered During Sevier County Fires

Staff members from The University of Tennessee Medical Center volunteered to help Sevier County fire victims in a variety of ways, during and after the fires. Whether they supplied pharmacy or medical care, or actually fought on the fire line, medical center staff displayed volunteer spirit to help keep our Smokies strong. 

Brian McCullough, PharmDMedical Center Pharmacists Delivered Supplies and Aided Doctors

When Gatlinburg fire victims living in the Rocky Top Sports World shelter couldn’t get back to their homes for medicine, pharmacists from the medical center were there to help.

Pharmacists Brian McCullough, PharmD; Bob Moye, PharmD; and pharmacy resident Chris McCown, heard the shelter needed supplies through medical center staff who were volunteering there.

On the Thursday after the fires, the pharmacists took up a delivery donated from the medical center, and stayed to assist with patient care.

“We saw a lot of breathing issues,” said McCullough (pictured, right). “We distributed asthma inhalers and some antibiotics for infections like sinusitis in conjunction with licensed prescribers.”

Since McCullough lives in Newport, near the shelter, he returned on Friday with supplies left over from the day before.

In addition to inhalers and antibiotics, they also provided ibuprofen, burn ointment and other goods to the medical teams.

While the shelter was crowded, McCullough said it was well run, and that there were snacks, drinks and food, plus donated clothing and other items.

“The Zac Brown Band even brought their tour bus and fed everyone barbecue,” said McCullough. “So many people contributed to the effort.”

UT College of Pharmacy students and professors volunteer at a distribution center during the Gatlinburg FiresUT College of Pharmacy Students Sorted Donations at Distribution Center

When the fires broke out on November 28, many medical center staff drove to Sevier County to help with triage. “But the need for medical assistance passed pretty quickly,” said Leslie Hamilton, PharmD (pictured with volunteers, left). “After a few days, the critical need was for help in other ways.”

Hamilton, an associate professor in the UT College of Pharmacy, emailed pharmacy students who were on break following exams. “We weren’t sure how many could make it,” said Hamilton. “But we ended up with a good-sized group.”

Through the Volunteer East Tennessee website the team was partnered with the Pigeon Forge distribution center. There, the team was split into two, half of which helped the National Guard meet people who were dropping off donations. The other half sorted the donations into large bins, which were then forklifted to the pickup area, where they were taken to shelters.

“We sorted by type of donation,” said Hamilton. “We’d get garbage bags of donations with shoes, clothes, toiletries, pots and pans – everything. It was overwhelming how much had been donated to just this one center.”

The College of Pharmacy team was part of a larger group of volunteers working alongside the National Guard. People came from all over the country to assist with the effort.

Many restaurants and families dropped off food and drinks to help keep volunteers going. “Someone even dropped by cookies for us,” said Hamilton.

After a four-hour shift, the team went home, tired but buoyed by their experience.

“For us,” said Hamilton, “volunteering was the main thing. Not that we did something pharmacy-related – just that we were able to help.”

Read the story of a doctor who volunteered at the shelter during the fire, and a medical center security staffer who worked front line to save the Parkway as a volunteer fire fighter. All in the latest issue of Frontiers.