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The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: Responding to catastrophe

October 11. 2017 11:46PM

I knew I would enjoying speaking with him because his Facebook page lists the music of Aerosmith as his favorite; I’m down with that.

But even more so, I think that Mark Proulx is someone whose life has purpose and one who understands his special gifts.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Toward the end of October, Proulx, 59, will be off and running again, this time to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria pummeled the beautiful island on Sept. 20, home to 3.4 million people. Catastrophic 155 mph winds knocked out power to Puerto Rico’s entire population, and it’s been extremely difficult trying to implement recovery and humanitarian efforts. Many roads no longer exist, fuel is hard to come by, cell service remains poor, etc. Proulx will be on the island for about 14 days, and his team will replace another team that has been supervising at the base of operations.

Proulx is a retired lieutenant from the Nashua Fire Department (30 years), a Manchester native and resident who serves as a longtime volunteer with one of the government’s exceptionally-trained federal medical response teams. He just returned from a 22-day mission in Marathon, Fla., a community in the Florida Keys that was damaged by Hurricane Irma last month.

While deployed to the disaster zone, Proulx and the team helped some 700 patients receive medical care following the storm’s impact on the Marathon hospital.

They quickly set up a mobile hospital unit, and 24 hours later, sprung into action. Proulx played several roles, one of them as deputy logistics chief who managed the supplies angle and other key details as well as handling aspects of communications and security.

Conditions are tough to look at when there are humans suffering and loss of property, as well as someone’s life becoming totally altered when a natural disaster strikes. For example, while in the Florida Keys post-Irma, “there was a metal scrap pile along the side of the road lined with about a hundred refrigerators, washing machines and dryers.” The storm broke just about everything and broke the people’s spirit.

Someone on the medical response team told of a resident putting up a For Sale sign on their ravaged property. After Irma hit, there was basically nothing left of value but the soil. The overwhelmed homeowner wanted out. “For $60,000, it’s yours.”

If there’s a catastrophe, chances are that Mark Proulx will respond. He was right there following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when it unleashed its fury upon the Gulf Coast. More than 1,800 died and millions were affected as the ugly disaster forced the evacuation of an entire metropolitan area and saw Katrina survivors relocated to every state.

So, why does Mark Proulx venture into potentially dangerous situations when he could be tinkering with his ‘67 Mustang and enjoying favorites like scuba diving, target shooting or moonlighting as a d.j.?

He feels blessed, and it’s a call he knows so well. Proulx is a rescuer.

“This is what people like me, do. My house is good; I’m a pretty lucky guy, and I have the skills to help.”

I told him that his fellow firefighters must be proud of him. He chuckled, “They think I’m a little weird.” All joking aside, they admire Proulx and the fine work he is doing.

If that wasn’t enough, he is also in his third term as a New Hampshire State Representative, another career he enjoys putting the time into.

In true Aerosmith style, you could say that Mark Proulx is “livin’ on the edge” because “life’s a journey, not a destination.”

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at

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