Ithaca firefighter returns from Philippines relief effort to share life changing experience

Ithaca firefighter James Wheal providing medical care in the Philippines.

It took Ithaca firefighter James Wheal 24 hours to get to the Philippines, but it only took a moment to realize the depth of the devastation in the wake of a powerful typhoon that left thousands dead.

"One thing that struck me walking down the street, the trees that are still standing don't even have bark on them. The storm tore the bark off the trees," says Wheal.

Wheal volunteered in the storm ravaged country for eight days. He drove around in a truck with other paramedics, physicians, and nurses providing basic medical care to people who have lost everything.

"Every moment your eyes were open, everything you saw was almost completely destroyed," says Wheal.

Wheal says the most surprising thing he saw was the resilience of the people he met.

"They were really desperate people but you wouldn't really know it by the way they welcomed us and were generous with us. They made us food and everyone seemed happy," says Wheal.

This was Wheal's first time going overseas, but it wasn't his first time responding to a disaster. He also helped out after Katrina, Gustav, and Ike.

Ithaca Fire Chief, Tom Parsons, is proud to have Wheal as one of his firefighters.

"Very proud of him that he was taking on this effort. He did it on his own. I'm very proud of the firefighters that came in and supported his efforts by covering his shifts while he was gone," says Parsons.

For the people wheal met, the road to recovery will be long and slow, but he hopes to return soon, to lend a helping hand.

Wheal set up a facebook page to share his experience and give you a chance to help with the relief effort in the Philippines.

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