Team Rubicon arrives to help Dover clean up from storm

Team Rubicon division supervisor Ryan Barkman uses his chain saw to cut trees on Manor Drive near Moore’s Lake in Dover today. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The loud buzzing of chain saws on Manor Drive near Moore’s Lake this morning signaled that Team Rubicon, a nonprofit, veteran-led disaster response organization, had arrived in Dover to help clean up following the destruction left by Tropical Storm Isaias last week.

The scene around Moore’s Lake was surreal, with large trees ripped in half and residents out in their yards still trying to get their lives back in order.

Dover was slammed by last week’s storm, which spawned a 29.2-mile-long EF1 tornado that broke Delaware records.

“Dover-area residents were hit hard by the recent storm, and we are grateful to be able to help them clean up and get back on their feet,“ said Christopher Sherwood, a former member of the U.S. Army Reserve and incident commander of Team Rubicon’s Operation Dover Down. “We also want to thank the community for welcoming us with open arms.”

Ryan Barkman, who is the site manager for Team Rubicon on Manor Drive, said seeing the kind of damage that the Moore’s Lake neighborhood suffered with a tornado is always chilling.

“I’ve been to a lot of damage sites in my history with Team Rubicon, and it’s always shocking when you see big trees snapped in half like that,” Mr. Barkman said. “I’ve seen what winds can do, and it’s never not surprising. At some point, you always look at it and think, ‘Yeah, this is a massive, massive force of nature.’”

Wayne Joyner saw and felt the force of the dangerous tornado firsthand Aug. 4. He and his wife live on Manor Drive.

“It was pretty bad. It was quite a life changer, but we’re very blessed,” Mr. Joyner said. “We’re OK. … Everything’s all right, and nobody got hurt, but it’s a lot of damage. We lost a shed and things got broken, but it could be worse. My wife and I survived OK through it.

“We were both home when the tornado hit, and it was pretty scary at the time. The whole landscaping of the street has changed. It’s not the same place we moved into 20-something years ago.”

Volunteers from Team Rubicon were trying their best to help restore some semblance of normal today.

A portion of the $150,000 in disaster relief funds that Kent County Levy Court commissioners approved in an emergency meeting Monday are helping support Team Rubicon in the form of housing, food and materials. They will also help pay for dumpsters that will be filled with massive amounts of yard waste.

The volunteers from Team Rubicon include specially trained chain saw operators (sawyers), who will be cutting through the massive trees littering the area to assist other local emergency response teams from the Delaware Department of Transportation, Kent County and the city of Dover. Others will be helping to clean up debris.

Team Rubicon member Brian Foy of Brooklyn, New York, tipped his hat to local emergency response teams and residents for the work they had accomplished prior to team’s arrival.

“(This) morning, when I pulled up (on Manor Drive), I thought that the city had done an amazing job based on what we were told we were going to encounter,” said Mr. Foy. “The roads are cleared, most of the debris is pulled to the side, work’s getting done. … We already have people out here delivering dumpsters.

“As far as what we can do here, we’re looking at this, and we think a lot of this is in our capability. We’re perfect for this job.”

Team Rubicon, comprised of veterans mostly from the Northeast, arrived in Dover with a team of 25 volunteers. They will be staying at Dover High School over the next seven days while they pitch in to help the city clean up and recover from Tropical Storm Isaias.

Team Rubicon volunteer Juli Audet lifts a heavy tree branch on Manor Drive. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Sherwood is coordinating the recovery efforts out of a makeshift office based in Dover High.

“Usually (what) we get asked is, ‘Hey guys, can you help us out?’ and we’ll send out an Advon team to certain areas to see if there’s work for us to be able to do, in coordination with the broader effort by other (local damage relief) groups out there,” Mr. Sherwood said. “Most of these types of responses are estimated to last seven days. In this case, it’s primarily a sawyer operation. Trees and tree removal are primarily what this operation is.

“It’s fantastic. The response that we’ve gotten (in Dover) and what they’ve been able to provide us for a place to (stay at Dover High), where we base our operations. It is outstanding, and the support that we’ve gotten from the local community has been great.”

Mr. Barkman said he and his team of sawyers are more than happy to spend a week in Dover and help in any way they can.

“The community emergency managers put their hand up and said, ‘We need help,’” he said. “We were able to interface with them the way we do across the nation and were able to get our Recon and Advon guys out to survey the area and get a general view of what was happening here, how much damage there was, and whether or not we needed a saw team or how we were going to respond to that.

“There are four teams of sawyers, and we’re just getting started. We have three right here (on Manor Drive near Moore’s Lake) that we’re going to concentrate on (today).”

Mr. Foy could be home enjoying retirement right now, but that wasn’t working out too well for him.

“I decided to get involved with Team Rubicon because I had retired from the Army and didn’t have very much else going on,” said Mr. Foy. “So, I found out about Team Rubicon, and they go to very obscure, remote places after disasters and help people out. I thought that was a great way to spend my retirement — so here I am, having been doing this since 2011.”

His story is a familiar one for Team Rubicon, which boasts a 120,000-plus, highly skilled volunteer force, primarily made up of veterans, that helps communities stabilize and recover after a disaster.

Since its inception following a 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Team Rubicon has launched more than 700 operations globally in response to disasters, including hurricanes Harvey, Florence and Michael.

Through a strong communications infrastructure supported by its cutting-edge technological solutions, Team Rubicon’s volunteers efficiently and effectively respond to disasters and help get stricken families back into their homes as soon as possible.

By giving veteran volunteers the opportunity to continue their service through disaster response, Team Rubicon also helps give them a renewed sense of purpose, community and identity.

The volunteers have also become quite efficient in COVID-19 requirements over the past several months.

“We’re following very strict social distancing protocols,” Mr. Barkman said. “We’re wearing our masks. We’re maintaining social distance and following all (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, even back at our billets at Dover High School. We’re all separated by 6 feet, and there’s very stringent protocols that we’re following.

“We’re projected to be (in Dover for) about seven days, and we think we are going to have enough work to keep us busy, definitely.”

Looking for volunteers
Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Jody Sweeney is inviting anyone who wants to help with Tropical Storm Isaias cleanup efforts to join forces with him and a small group of volunteers Saturday morning from 8 until noon.

Commissioner Sweeney and the group will be meeting at Christ Memorial Baptist Church at 1160 E. Lebanon Road in Dover, which is on Del. 10 near the State Street intersection.

Volunteers will be working in the area of Richardson Circle.