Public safety workers are trained to deal with a wide range of emergency situations — but for local personnel deployed to the coast after Hurricane Florence, it was hard to prepare for what they encountered.
“It was like a disaster movie,” said Brad Harrell of the Mount Airy Fire Department, one of four city firefighters who aided recovery efforts in Carteret County.
“I can’t even put into words how to express it,” Harrell added, “just to see the destruction.”
Harrell, who is a fire lieutenant, and the other department members who assisted at the coast volunteered to go, he said.
The group also included firefighters Josh King, Corbin Soots and Logan Utt.
But the Mount Airy Fire Department group was not the only local contingent sent to eastern North Carolina to help in the hurricane’s aftermath.
Emergency Management personnel from Surry County, numbering more than 10 individuals overall, also have assisted in various capacities, according to county Emergency Services Director John Shelton.
They have engaged in five different deployments to provide Haz Mat, equipment mobilization, communications and other services, Shelton said.
People “lost everything”
The Mount Airy firefighters, equipped with one fire engine, left on Sept. 20 for their mission to Carteret County, reporting initially to Morehead City.
Then they were sent to assist the Otway Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department in Beaufort. Their efforts involved assuming the regular fire workload in order to free up Otway personnel to deal directly with hurricane-related issues.
“We basically took their calls,” Harrell said, including fire and medical emergencies they would normally respond to in Mount Airy. The Otway department also served as a shelter for persons displaced from their homes.
After assisting for two days, the local group was deployed to the neighboring town of Newport to aid the fire and rescue department there.
And the effects of the disaster were in local firefighters’ sights all during their trip.
This included witnessing 3 to 4 feet of water inside homes, what seemed like miles of downed utility poles and trees and piles of people’s belongings strewn in yards and driveways, according to Harrell.
“There’s places that’re not going to have power, they told us, potentially until Christmas,” said the local firefighter who was experiencing such a mission for the first time.
Along with the physical devastation encountered was a mental impact.
Harrell said it was a challenge “to be around people who lost everything they had,” which left a question in his mind: “How do they pick up and go from this?”
One positive aspect was seeing victims come together and help each other, which included those with virtually no possessions left. Harrell mentioned how folks in Surry County have a reputation for uniting during a crisis.
“You think that only happens in my town,” he said of such behavior. “When we got down there, I was like, ‘this happens everywhere.”’
Seeing the good attitude that prevailed, even among those suffering most from the storm, made an impression on the Mount Airy team.
“It humbles you more than anything,” Harrell said.
The 36-year-old firefighter also says there is a lesson to be learned from the devastation on the coast:
“It makes you appreciate everything a lot more,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted, because no matter what you’ve got, it could be gone in a split second.”
Harrell wishes he could assist those in the hurricane-stricken region even more.
“I’m ready to go back now,” the fire lieutenant said Monday.
Emergency Management aid
Shelton said local Emergency Management personnel also have provided a number of services in hurricane-stricken areas, from the beginning of the crisis.
The local Incident Management Team initially was deployed to Butner, where a staging area was set up for much of the equipment headed down east. It included Kenny Hooker, Michael Johnson, Jimmy Ashburn and Ian Harrell.
A second deployment involved an assignment by Nick Brown to take a local communications trailer to the area to coordinate communications resources.
For a third deployment, Myron Waddell of the Incident Management Team took the county morgue trailer to Scotland Memorial Hospital.
Another hurricane-related effort involved sending a Surry County Haz Mat contingent to the disaster area for a mass decontamination mission. It included Dale Harold, Andrew Casstevens, William Wall and Radolfo Galvan, all members of the State Medical Assistance Team.
A fifth deployment by local Emergency Management personnel, including Incident Management Team members, had a “prime mover” function to mobilize equipment to disaster sites. They included Eric Southern, Kenny Hooker and Byron Isaacs.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter