T. Anthony Bell
Senior Writer/Special Projects
Fort Lee’s role as a community partner was underscored last week when a call for support in the wake of a fatal bus crash in neighboring Prince George County was promptly answered by installation personnel.
The March 19 crash, which occurred on the I-95, Exit 45 off-ramp near Crater Road, killed two people and injured several others among 56 passengers on board. No other vehicles were involved in the 5:22 a.m. incident. The cause is under investigation.
PGC Fire and EMS, which responded to the scene, put out a county-wide call for translators when it determined a number of passengers primarily spoke Mandarin Chinese.
Two Team Lee members were among the volunteers who showed up to render the needed assistance at the PGC Central Wellness Center that served as the medical care facility/staging area for victims. James B. Owens, director of PGC Fire, Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Management, said the translators’ value was undeniable.
“Fort Lee did an outstanding job with the other people we had trying to interpret between the caregivers and first responders here and those who had the language barriers,” he said.
Li-Ping Hsu, a Software Engineering Center-Lee computer scientist, was one of the volunteers who made their way to the CWC during the course of the day. The Kaohsiung, Taiwan native said about 25 crash victims intermittently arrived at the facility during her stay. Roughly 15 were Mandarin Chinese speakers, she estimated.
“I spoke to almost all of them,” she said. “They were anxious. Some were frightened, and some were in pain.”
During their stay at the CWC, passengers were provided with support services and shelter and comfort items. Some had arrived from area hospitals after being treated for minor injuries. Volunteers provided comforting words as they awaited alternate means of transportation or the arrival of friends and relatives.
Hsu said she spent most of her time there relaying victim’s needs to CWC support personnel and translating instructions as the Chinese nationals registered with the Red Cross.
Christy Carneal, Fort Lee Red Cross program coordinator, also was at the CWC in an official capacity. She witnessed the translators in action, and said the outcomes might have been different if not for their presence.
“Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people,” she said. “Yes, you hear stories about those who take advantage of people during a crisis situation … but (one of the things I witnessed today was a Soldier) who was able to talk to this man lying on a cot who had just suffered an unimaginable tragedy, and he was able to talk to him in his own language to tell him things will be OK. It touches you and makes you realize how much good is still in the world.”
The Soldier, who declined being interviewed, and Hsu’s efforts are representative of a willingness on the part of Fort Lee military members and civilians to step up when they are needed. Installation personnel routinely support a wide assortment of charities, care facilities, veterans’ groups, national parks and schools in surrounding communities. Last year for example, large numbers of Soldiers and civilians spent hundreds of hours in school classrooms supporting reading programs and other academic endeavors.
Hsu said she was happy to serve as a translator and did not think twice about helping out. In reflection, she expressed a feeling of pride because she was able provide victims with a familiar face and words of comfort and authorities services they did not have immediate access to.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese and was finally able to use my skill to help people when they needed it. I’m just so glad I was able to do it; to give them (the victims) the feeling they were not in a strange place.”
Mandarin Chinese is a common language among inhabitants of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (also called Mainland China), said Hsu. She also speaks Taiwanese, a hybrid Chinese language with differences to Mandarin in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.