Vincenzo Boyd had been working as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for barely two months when he made the decision to travel to Texas to volunteer with the disaster relief effort for Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Gulf Coast on Aug. 17.
“I was at church on Sunday with my daughter, and the pastor said, ‘God bless all of those first responders going out to help Texas during hurricane Harvey,’” the 21-year-old Boyd remembered. “I thought to myself, ‘How nice it would be to be able to help.’”
Boyd received an email from the American Red Cross requesting volunteers, but when his response still had not been acknowledged by Sept. 3, he decided to make the trip on his own.
Boyd and his friend Evan Giacomino landed in Dallas on a Sunday morning and began a week-long quest to help. They drove to the Lone Star Convention Center that was hosting a shelter ran by Red Cross and Montgomery County Health Services. After the director verified their EMT licences, they were approved to help. That night they relieved a pair of exhausted nurses who had been the only ones attending to the 370 people living at the shelter.
“The first night was slow. We got on a boat and rescued a cat and that was it,” said Boyd. “But, back at the shelter it was tough seeing children the age of my daughter ask their parents when they were going home. They would also have to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a bus that would take them to school.”
Boyd and Giacomino worked all week, running a medical booth from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He remembers seeing abandoned homes and destroyed streets, thinking about the comfort of his family and life back home.
Working at the shelter was an experience in itself.
Boyd met a man staying at the shelter who shared with him his love for a woman with whom he had experienced a lot. The man’s trailer had been ruined in the hurricane. He had nothing with him, but he wanted to marry the woman, so Boyd and the shelter staff gathered money to help with the on-the-spot wedding.
“He bought a ring and cowboy hat from Walmart and proposed,” said Boyd. “The shelter then helped him organize the wedding and they celebrated. It was nice because it was one of the few times I saw people at the shelter having some fun.”
There were several life-changing events that made Boyd realize that saving people was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. When he was 10, his grandfather, who was watching him while his mother worked as a police dispatcher, had a heart attack. When he was 19 living in Sacramento, he witnessed his friend die in his own living room. It was then that he was moved to pursue his career as an EMT.
“I was doing CPR trying to bring him [the friend] back and it didn’t work,” Boyd said. “I blamed myself for a long time because if I knew what I was doing, maybe I could have saved him.”
After moving back to San Mateo, he received his EMT license, completed his fire classes at San Francisco City College, and is currently on the waiting list for the San Francisco fire department.
Boyd said his trip to Texas filled him with gratitude. He came home amazed with the Southern hospitality he had received when people saw him dressed in his EMT uniform.
“The entire trip was filled with many blessings,” he said, mentioning that he was provided with transportation, meals, and a room to sleep in all throughout his trip.
During his stay he attended a high school football game (which is a big cultural event in Texas) and he was also invited to a Texas fire station where he was offered a job.
“This trip really shaped me,” said Boyd. “I’m grateful for what I have and proud of what I do.”
Story by: Maria Garcia-Hernandez