Delaware firefighters join rescue efforts in North Carolina

DOVER — If needed, Delaware firefighters can provide more assistance as North Carolina grapples with Hurricane Florence’s fallout.

For now, 13 First State fire companies from all three counties have already supplied 42 members to the cause.

“We’ve got a bunch of companies stacked up and waiting to go if they are called upon,” said Delaware Fire School Training Administrator Tucker Dempsey. He organized the Delaware Structural Firefighting Task Force that headed south at 6 a.m. Saturday and was deployed at two locations.

Early Monday afternoon, John Rutledge of Smyrna-based Citizens Hose Company said his post at Morehead City near the Atlantic Coast was without power. His team has spent much of its time responding to downed wire calls and there’s still plenty more work to do.

“I can’t imaging the task of getting all the wires back up and restoring power completely,” he said. “There’s a process to it and it’s going to be awhile before that happens.”

‘Utter devastation’

While some buildings and structures sustained “utter devastation and can’t be used anymore” others like the firehouse he was staying in “made out pretty well.”

The Morehead City locals have been very welcoming and understandably appreciative of the outside help.

“The people here are real positive, and that’s been real enlightening because if I were looking at what they are facing I’m not sure I would be as upbeat and hopeful as they are,” Mr. Rutledge said.

The opportunity to assist others reminded Mr. Rutledge why he spends so many hours volunteering and training to be a first responder. He was disappointed when an opportunity to assist Hurricane Harvey survivors in Texas fell through in August 2017, but glad to make it to North Carolina for his first out of state emergency response.

‘All about helping out’

“This is very refreshing considering that there’s sometimes frustration in the home and work life, politics and everything else, but you come down here and none of that matters because it’s all about helping out,” he said.

A Felton firefighter drives along a flooded area in North Carolina.

Mr. Rutledge said his initial deployment was scheduled for seven days and “I don’t know if we’ll be here all seven days.”

The Delawareans were stationed at the local fire company and fortunate enough to have a generator supplying power. Local restaurants provided food bound to spoil without refrigeration and ample supplies of bottled water were available.

“We’re able to charge our phones and stay in touch with our families back home, which is important,” Mr. Rutledge said. “We’re being treated very well down here and the local fire department couldn’t be more welcoming to us, they really couldn’t.

“I didn’t expect that the conditions we would be in would be this good, but we are in a good, comfortable situation.”

Delaware’s quick response

Delaware was quick to respond last week when on Thursday the State of North Carolina put out a call to all states for firefighters through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact as the storm approached and the chance of a potential natural disaster heightened. A bid was entered by mid-day Friday to cover fuel and other associated costs with the trip and quickly accepted.

“While other states were going to need about 72 hours to put a plan together, we were able to turn around the request in about 12 hours, which was really valuable to the growing needs,” said Mr. Dempsey, who noted the Fire School was first contacted by the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

According to Mr. Dempsey, 36 task force members are making the journey at no charge, while six other career firefighters will be reimbursed for costs.

The personnel gathered at the Queenstown Premium Outlets on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge before heading south in a caravan of vehicles, Mr. Dempsey said. They were bound for Raleigh and split into two groups upon arrival a few hours later.

One unit was sent inland to Fayetteville where it remained idle for the weekend but was expected to take action as nearby rivers peak and record flooding arrives this week.

The other crew traveled to Morehead City near the Atlantic Coast and stayed busy running calls such as downed wires and trees, clearing roadways and making door to door notifications to residents. At midnight Sunday, the crew responded to a house fire.

“Morehead said they’re needed for as long as they can stay,” Mr. Dempsey said.

Communities providing firefighters included Smyrna, Cheswold, Leipsic, Little Creek, Hartly, Felton, Newark, Hockessin, Christiana, Dagsboro, Frankford, Bridgeville and Lewes.

Additionally, DEMA planned to send a three person Damage Assessment Team Monday morning to help the North Carolina Office of Emergency Management in recovery efforts.

Last Saturday, the Delaware National Guard sent seven members to Virginia and Maryland to support National Guard Bureau’s ongoing Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

Six Army National Guardsmen went to Arlington, Virginia to assist at NGB’s Joint C4 Communications Center and one Air National Guardsman to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland to support the Crisis Action Team.

“These Delaware Guardsmen stepped up at a moment’s notice to fill the request from NGB and support the affected states,” said Maj. Gen. Carol Timmons, Adjutant General for the Delaware National Guard in a news release.

“They are doing important behind-the-scenes work that will benefit the ongoing relief efforts.”

As of Monday, more than 7,100 Army and Air National Guard members were responding to Florence, officials said.


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