Todd Grisier was part of a select group of people who performed a difficult job after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.
As a member of DMORT, or Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, the Archbold mortician was part of an effort to recover, identify, and return the remains of American citizens who died in the disaster.
Grisier worked with the Family Assistance Core Team, known as FACT, gathering information about loved ones who perished in the earthquake.
Working from a center in Miami, Fla., Grisier said he conducted personal or telephone interviews lasting a couple of hours.
During the interviews, Grisier gathered answers to a 600-question, eight-page questionnaire known as a victim identification profile.
The detailed, personal, and sensitive information went into a computer database, which was matched with information at the Disaster Portable Mortuary Unit in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, for identification of remains.
“It was very difficult, absolutely,” Grisier said.
“It’s emotionally draining work. Some of the toughest work I’ve ever done.”
For about 16 days, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 12, Grisier worked 12-hour shifts gathering information and entering profile statistics.
The questionnaire sought information ranging from height, weight, and hair color, to clothing attire, type of footwear, sneakers, sandals, etc.
“We asked about medical histories,” he said. “Did they have some type of medical procedure that left foreign objects in the body, such as hip replacements?”
Most of the time, experts fell back on the old standby of dental records.
Grisier called family physicians and dentists to have original copies of records sent to Miami.
He said everyone was helpful; he had records within 24 hours.
For the Haiti mission, Grisier said all referrals to FACT came from the U.S. State Department. Once positive identifications were made, the State Department informed the families.
While Grisier worked with the families, he was not asked to deliver the news the remains were homebound.
“Once I knew the State Department had contacted them, then we could call back and say, ‘I’m glad we were able to help,’” he said.
After the earthquake, it was two weeks before the family assistance center was established.
“By this time, a lot of families knew their loved ones were deceased,” he said, “but their biggest concern was, ‘Where do we go from here? How do we go on in a normal fashion?’
“There were questions about life insurance, about money in bank accounts they couldn’t access.”
Many things couldn’t be done until a death certificate was issued. In the Haitian disaster, after the bodies of American citizens are identifi ed, they are flown to the U.S. Air Force Base at Dover, Del.
The base also receives the remains of American soldiers killed overseas. Official death certificates are issued at Dover.
Grisier said the work is going well.
“We have been very successful in what we were tasked to do,” he said.
“Identifications have been made, but there still are quite a few unaccounted for.
“The weird thing is, we figure success in a completely different way. Success to us, under these dire situations, is identifying someone’s loved one as being dead, and recovered, and on their way home,” he said
Grisier said it is rewarding work.
“I get a great amount of satisfaction helping others.”
The term Uncle Sam was apparently derived from the initials, U.S., that Samuel Wilson, an Army provisioner stamped on barrels of salted meat. It first appeared in Troy, N.Y. in 1813.