The Rescuers: Cook Children’s Nurse, Dispatcher Help Hurricane Victims
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Collin Main’s grandfather was always his hero. His granddad served in the military and survived the Pearl Harbor attack. He also instilled in Collin a code from an early age to help people in need and not to brag when you did the right thing.
So Collin never expected a national correspondent from CBS News to be on a helicopter with him during the rescue of a 93-year-old woman from the perils of Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas.
Omar Villafranca was on that helicopter and captured the rescue, naming Main in one of his tweets and showing him in his evening news report on the dangerous flooding.
“My cousin texted me and said, “I just watched the CBS Evening News and you were on it,” Main said while laughing. “I saw him (Villafranca), but I didn’t realize he was a reporter at first until we started talking. I never thought much about it.”
Main, who is a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at Cook Children’s, never thought much about helping people either after he saw the devastation of the hurricane.
“I feel like we did a lot of good, but I don’t necessarily feel like we did anything special,” Main said. “We were just doing what we were called to do. You don’t go into the medical field without having the call to help people.”
That call tugged at Main as he listened to Zello, a Walkie Talkie App, where he could hear the need for medical help and people with boats.
“I listened all day and it was just pulling at my heart,” he said. “They were pulling out babies and old people. I had to do something.”
Main called his fishing buddy Trent Palmer, who is a dispatcher at Cook Children’s Teddy Bear Transport and a paramedic. Main asked Palmer if they could take his aluminum flat water boat and head to Houston to help with the hurricane.
At first Palmer said no. After all, it was his expensive fishing boat that they would take to South Texas. But like Main, that calling to help tugged at him too.
"I said, 'Man, I don't want to run over a fire hydrant and sink. We would have to be the first ones rescued,'" Palmer said. "Collin told me to download this walkie-talkie rescue channel. I kept hearing call after call. People stranded in their attics or up on a roof. It just didn't sit well with me. I called Collin back and said, "The boat is hooked up to the truck, get here as soon as you can. Let’s go.”
They took another friend who is a physical therapist and headed toward Houston at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
They listened to the app the whole trip. After a couple of hours, they realized that Houston was covered and it was Port Arthur that needed help the most. The three friends called until they reached a dispatcher in Port Arthur who gave them directions to a local mall, a place high enough that they could dock their boat and begin their rescue mission.
When they reached Port Arthur at around 5 a.m. Wednesday, they were shocked at what they saw, or to be more accurate – what they didn’t see.
Other than the Coast Guard, they were the first boat on the scene. They talked to a dispatcher to prioritize medical calls and headed out on the water. Within 5 minutes, they brought 15 people on their boat to safety.
For the next 12 hours, the three men lived the adventure of a lifetime:
They rescued a woman that Main estimated to be in her 80s. She was using a walker to help her stand in water up to her knees. She had been standing for 12 hours. When she saw Main, she sobbed from relief.
One family proved to be especially meaningful to Main. He volunteers at Camp Sanguinity, a camp for patients with cancer and blood disorders. The dispatcher said a child in the family had cancer and had a port. When Main and his physical therapist friend reached the house, they found six kids and a couple of adults. Main put one child on his back and carried the young child with cancer. Main wrapped his poncho on the child to protect the port.
At times, Main walked in waist-deep water to go to a house, while Palmer drove people to land in his boat. In most of the houses, the electricity was still on and power lines were on the ground. Main even commandeered a Jon Boat he saw floating by to carry someone to safety.
But for all the people helped, none were more dramatic than the one captured by CBS Evening News.
The trio received a call about a 93-year old woman who had suffered a seizure and was experiencing chest pains. Palmer drove the boat as far as he could, but the water became too shallow and Main jumped out to walk.
He saw a young boy riding by on a Jet Ski. Main asked him for help. He hopped on the back of the Jet Ski and used his phone for directions. When Main arrived, he found the woman with water up to the mattress on her bed. She couldn’t walk or stand and was not physically able to ride back on the Jet Ski. She was in immediate need of help and beyond what Main could offer her with limited supplies.
Main walked out and saw Navy rescue helicopters hovering above like bees. He took off his white hat and waved it frantically to get the crew’s attention.
The lady was carried out, placed on a basket and lifted up to the helicopter. They asked Main what he did for a living and since he was a nurse, they brought him along for medical support.
But the adventure didn’t stop there. Once the woman was safe, Main still had to get back to his friends who were about six miles away.
He walked out of the airport where the helicopter landed and hitchhiked to the highway. From there he flagged down a dump truck that was headed to the mall.
“It was the wildest day of my life,” Main said.
From sunrise to about 8 p.m. that evening, the three men from North Texas made multiple trips and were involved in rescuing more than 100 people. By the end of the day, dozens of boats had arrived. The Army and Coast Guard took over by the evening and it was time to go home.
"It was a real humbling experience," Palmer said. "Everybody was so grateful. I saw stuff I never wanted to see and I saw stuff that was really amazing. We did have some pretty scary moments, but it was nothing compared to what was going on around us. We weren't worried about ourselves."
They drove back and went nearly 48 hours without sleep. Palmer returned to work, with someone else who needed to be rescued -- Harvey, a dog they saw that was wandering around without an owner.
"He's as skinny as could be," Palmer said. "But we brought him home. He's sitting right next to me. I have him now."
Thursday night and Main was up after only 5 hours of sleep to take care of the animals that live on the farm.
“It was such a terrible situation. I’ve never seen anything like it and hope I never do again,” Main said. “The look of loss and despair on people’s faces… it will stay with me forever. People were crying. Some did not want to leave their house. Everything was a total loss. We tried to be encouraging. We told them they were safe. You can replace this stuff. But, it was hard on people. They would be in waist-deep water and they didn’t want to leave.”
And yet through it all, the three friends found moments of joy.
“We were able to laugh. We had a boat full of people and we were going by a Dairy Queen,” Main said. “It looked open except for all the water around it. The lights were on and the Drive Through sign was lit up. I said, “Palmer, pull over and get us all some Blizzards. We all started laughing. All of these people who had gone through so much started laughing. This was without question, one of the craziest things I’ve ever been through in my life. But I never felt like I was in danger. I’m sure I was. I’m sure we all were. But my granddad, he was always my hero. He taught me to help people. We all feel fortunate that we were able to help. I know this. I would do it all again and wouldn’t think twice about it.”
His grandfather would be proud.
*Top photo, credited to Omar Villafranca/CBS News
**All other photos, video credited to Trent Palmer