UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- A small group of first responders from the Puget Sound area is heading to Japan this week to offer medical aid.
The volunteer nurses and firefighters are with EMPACT Northwest, which has responded to many disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
"By our profession, we're helpers," said Armadeus Davidson, a firefighter and paramedic in Gig Harbor. "We have a hard time sitting around, seeing these events unfold and not being a part of it."
The group is packing enough scrubs to last at least a week, knowing they may not have access to laundry, and plenty of ready-to-eat-meals.
"We don't want to go to Japan and be a burden on the system," Davidson said.
They are also bringing iodine tablets to purify the drinking water. But they are concerned about the nuclear radiation threat in Japan.
"I'm keeping a close eye on it," said emergency room nurse Tamara Alvarez. "I'm concerned, but that's not going to stop me from going and helping out where we're needed."
Alvarez is leaving Monday with a few other volunteers. Davidson plans to leave Wednesday. They want to assess the need, then figure out if more volunteers from their organization are needed.
EMPACT Northwest relies on donations to fund these relief trips. A fundraiser is scheduled for April 29. More information on the fundraiser and the group's trip to Japan can be found at www.empactnorthwest.org.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, the American Red Cross is training volunteers for future disasters through its "Ready When the Time Comes" program.
Volunteers spent two days learning how to work on a mobile kitchen unit, which can produce 12,000 to 15,000 meals a day during a disaster.
"Even something like a cup of coffee is a tremendous emotional boost to them, to know that people are there," said Howard Ferrucci, a 23-year volunteer who helped provide meals following 9/11.
Emilee Melton is taking part in the training, which seems especially important in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Even though Melton is not eligible to volunteer in Japan because she has not received training for international disasters, she knows her skills could be used here.
"It could happen to us," she said. "You want to be prepared for it."
Randy Hutson, CEO of the American Red Cross in King and Kitsap counties, said his organization is in constant contact with the Japanese Red Cross to see if any help is needed.
"Honestly, the Japanese Red Cross is one of the best-prepared Red Cross organizations in the world," Hutson said. "Nobody can be prepared for that scale of a disaster, but any level of preparedness is vitally important to recover quickly from a big disaster."