By Nathan Ham
The devastation from Hurricane Florence along the North Carolina coastline and eastern portion of the state has required the help of numerous rescue teams and first responders from all across the state and the country.
The Boone Fire Department is part of this rescue coalition doing what they can to help out. In Pender County, a four-person swift water rescue team as well as Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs and Sgt. Shane Robbins of the Boone Police Department working in the command center have helped play a vital role in numerous water rescues since the team left on Monday afternoon, September 17.
“As soon as we knew we were out of the woods with Florence here Monday morning, we got a call from Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins and he knew that we had some resources. We got our first notification that they were going to ask for us at 10 or 11 a.m. and by 2 p.m. our crew was on the road. They actually hit the ground on Monday night at 9 p.m.,” said Mike Teague, the assistant fire chief of the Boone Fire Department.
Teague said when the crew first got there, they were told that they were basically first in line for the next rescue because the other water rescue teams were exhausted.
“We couldn’t send anybody down early because we knew we still had the incredible amount of potential here for storm impact, so as soon as we knew we were out of the woods, we were able to make those resources available,” Teague said.
Pender County, located just north of Wilmington, was one of the hardest hit areas in the storm. Burgaw, the county seat, not only experienced torrential rainfall, but was also where the Cape Fear River was predicted to crest at 24.2 feet, which would mark a new record for Pender County. Burgaw is right where the rescue teams from Boone are currently working.
“The training and the equipment that the town has provided for us to be able to train our personnel to be able to do this in Boone, they are now able to take that and make a difference in another community and I think that’s something that we’ve got to have a lot of pride in and be very proud of,” said Teague. “The experience and the exposure that they are getting in this will make them even stronger when they come back here. While most of our swift water team members have had rescues, we’ve never worked anything like this.”
According to Teague, the department will rotate swift water rescue teams in and out of the area as long as needed. The first crew returned to Boone this weekend with another crew heading back to the same location. The fire department has three swift water rescue teams prepared to help out.
Being able to provide these resources in Pender County while also having fire and rescue personnel in Boone is something that the department has to focus on as well.
“We’ve got to provide service here and make sure we’re protecting the citizens of Boone, but we want to make sure we’re giving them what they need,” said Teague. “When we had the Horton Fire and years ago when we had blizzards, a lot of the people that came up here and helped were from down there. That’s how this system works. When we’re keeping all of our resources tied up and getting that help from people away from here, that’s vital. We’re very happy to be able to have our crews making a difference and making rescues.”
These water rescue crews not only have to be ready for immediate rescue calls, but also have to be prepared to go into houses that are flooded and check to see if there are people there that need help. People that could possibly be in their attic or on the roof have no way of reaching out for help.
According to Teague, the Boone Fire Department has had people trained to do water rescue, but having all of the equipment needed has only happened in the last five to 10 years. Boone Fire Department has 25 certified swift water rescue personnel.
“We’ve got some local, hometown mountain boys down at the coast. They’re down there making a difference. I think the Boone community should be very proud of the efforts from these guys. We’ve been able to save lives here during flash floods, we know how effective our swift water rescue teams are. We’re very appreciative of the support and of the training we’ve been able to give our personnel,” Teague said.
As the swift water rescue teams are traveling back and forth, the team members that return to Boone will not get much time to rest as they have to be ready and on duty for whatever may happen in Boone while the other crew is gone to the coast.
While this is the first time Boone has been involved in water rescues at the coast, this is not the first time the town has sent people down after a storm. According to Teague, Boone sent heavy equipment, fire department personnel and water and sewer workers to Knightdale and Wendell to help clear roadways and remove trees during Hurricane Fran.