Team player; Lancaster pharmacist courts disasters.
LANCASTER - There's a lot of stuff in what is described as "Mel's room" in the Magnolia Avenue home of pharmacist Emilio J. "Mel" Mastrodomenico.
Amid his wall of mortars and pestles, old pharmaceutical curiosities, and Coca-Cola memorabilia - a nod to his Clinton soda jerk days - there are photos of Mel with movie stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Marisa Tomei.
Both were taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Mr. Mastrodomenico set up a perfectly organized pharmacy in a meat case in a damaged Manhattan delicatessen not far from Ground Zero.
"We had to remove meat and fish and clean it out first. It smelled pretty bad," he said.
His team, the Worcester-based Massachusetts-2 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, spent two weeks in New York after the attacks, mainly treating firefighters, EMTs, police officers and others searching through debris.
"There weren't many survivors to treat," he said shaking his head sadly.
The volunteer group, of which Mr. Mastrodomenico, 81, has been team pharmacist since its inception in 1988, also treated postal workers in New York City who were thought to have been exposed to the anthrax bacterium.
In fact, he has been at every team deployment and training for the past 23 years, including last year's earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and, closer to home, the Worcester Cold Storage building fire in 1999.
The team, which consists of approximately 150 doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, paramedics and other medical personnel, is dispatched in groups of 35 to provide emergency medical care during disasters and large scale events, such as the Olympics. There are two groups in Massachusetts, the other is based in Boston, and numerous others across the U.S. They are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr. Mastrodomenico, a Clinton native who began his career at Hastings Pharmacy in Clinton at the soda fountain, and later owned his own stores in Acton, Sterling, and Rutland, was recently honored by the national organization at its annual training summit in Texas, receiving the annual leadership award.
He had no idea he was to get the award as he sat in the audience, somewhat bored, listening to speeches.
"I was just sitting there like a big salami when I heard my name. Then I shed a tear or two. You become like a family," he said.
The team's commander, Gina M. Smith, described Mr. Mastrodomenico, a father of six and grandfather of six, as resourceful and creative.
"He has come up with innovative patient care during disasters," she said.
Mr. Mastrodomenico said the pharmacy component of a deployment usually consists of picking up a cache of basic supplies and medications, such as antibiotics, ointments, narcotics and intravenous supplies, in Maryland, which are taken to the disaster sites and set up in tents, on tarmacs or wherever they can find space, like the deli case.
One of his many photographs shows neatly folded plastic packets of pills strung methodically along folded up trash bags that were somehow affixed to a wall.
"The doctors ask what we have, and we take it from there," he said.
The team has its own trucks, and sleeps together on stretchers, often in tents.
Mr. Mastrodomenico, who sold his last store in 1981, but still works part time at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, was one of the founding members of the disaster team.
"I heard about it in 1988, and I wanted to volunteer. At that point, I was able to leave at a moment's notice because I was not working for a chain, and I didn't have my stores anymore," he said.
Of all his deployments, Mr. Mastrodomemico said going to Haiti to help earthquake victims effected him the most. He witnessed a lot of amputations performed under terrible conditions - in non-sterile tents in stifling heat and humidity.
"I don't think we made much of a difference there," he said.
The 9-11 deployment was traumatic as well.
"After that, you're not as patient as you used to be. Things are not as important as you thought," he said.
At the Cold Storage fire in Worcester, the team was on standby with stretchers to help firefighters and EMTs.
"I have gained so much respect for paramedics over the last 23 years," he said.
Mr. Mastrodomenico himself ended up suffering from dehydration in Haiti, prompting his wife, Barbara, to question if it's time for him to retire once and for all.
Maybe not. A few seconds after her concern was voiced, her husband said he was thinking of going to help with tornado victims in Western and Central Massachusetts.
"It just gets my adrenaline flowing," he said.
ART: PHOTO; CHART
CUTLINE: (PHOTO0 Emilio J. "Mel" Mastrodomenico with pharmaceutical and other items at his home in Lancaster. (CHART) Worcester-based National Disaster Medical Assistance Team
PHOTOG: (PHOTO) T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR