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'We rescued 18 people, 10 dogs and four cats': Local first responders, utility workers recount hurricane aid efforts

 

In this submitted photo, 4-County Electric Power Association workers help restore power in Florida after Hurricane Irma. Eric Yarbrough, a heavy construction foreman for 4-County, said,

In this submitted photo, 4-County Electric Power Association workers help restore power in Florida after Hurricane Irma. Eric Yarbrough, a heavy construction foreman for 4-County, said, "By the time we left, we had restored power at a substation and four feeder lines. I'd guess we restored power to about 3,000 homes and businesses."
Photo by: Courtesy photo/4-County Electric Power Association

 

Eric Yarbrough, left, and Wes Mims

Eric Yarbrough, left, and Wes Mims

 

 

Slim Smith

 

 

From rescuing residents and pets from flooded homes to restoring electrical power for thousands of people, the Golden Triangle lent a hand to hurricane victims. 

 

Firefighters and utility worker from the Golden Triangle were among hundreds who rushed to the aid of Floridians impacted by Hurricane Irma, which swept the length of the state on Sept. 8-9. 

 

Three members of Columbus Fire and Rescue and two members of the Starkville Fire Department joined about 30 other firefighters from throughout Mississippi to provide search-and-rescue aid in northeast Florida, while 4-County Electric Power Association sent two crews, 15 workers in all, also to the north part of the state. 

 

The firefighters left for Middleburg, Florida, just south of Jacksonville on Sept. 10, almost as soon as Irma had cleared the area. They worked primarily on swift-water rescues for four days before returning home as flood waters receded. 

 

As the firefighters were returning home, the utility workers from the area were making the two-day trip to Georgetown, Florida, a community about 30 miles south of Palatka, where they replaced fallen utility poles and lines until returning Wednesday. 

 

It was hardly a Florida vacation for either group. 

 

"From the time we got started, it was a bunch of 16-hour days, some a little less and some a little more," said Eric Yarbrough, a heavy construction foreman for 4-County. "By the time we left, we had restored power at a substation and four feeder lines. I'd guess we restored power to about 3,000 homes and businesses." 

 

Capt. Wes Mims of Columbus Fire and Rescue said the rescue efforts proved what Mississippi firefighters can do. 

 

"This was our first out-of-state deployment, and I don't think the people in Florida knew what we were capable of, the kind of equipment and training we had," Mims said. "We had very good success. We rescued 18 people, 10 dogs and four cats." 

 

 

 

Good practice 

 

While both Yarbrough and Mims said the real purpose of the trip was to provide aid to hurricane victims, it also provided a great opportunity to practice under real-time conditions and learn new methods of employing their skills. 

 

Yarbrough, who has been with 4-County for 15 years, said he has been involved in several similar situations, beginning with Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. 

 

"Every situation is different," Yarbrough said. "You are forced to figure out, 'how do we go about this?' in situations where there may not be a lot of information available to you. So every time you go to something like this, it just gives you an experience you can draw on. 

 

"You never learn everything because things change, like the technology available," he added. "On this trip, they were using a drone to examine the lines. So that's something that we know about now and can use in the future." 

 

While first responders -- fire, police, EMTs -- regularly have training exercises, participating in actual emergency conditions provides opportunities that can't be replicated. 

 

"For example, in a major flood situation, one of the big problems in finding out where the roads and streets are, since they're under water," Mims said. "By the end of the four days, we had gotten pretty good at looking for the tops of cars just below the water surface and street signs, mailboxes. Obviously, that's something we can't practice in a training exercise. So I definitely think every time you go to something like this, you learn some things and get better at the things you already know." 

 

Mims was joined by the CFR's Battalion Chief Scott Swain and Engineer Marco Rodriguez, along with Battalion Chief Stewart Bird and Sgt. Justin Edwards of the Starkville Fire Department. 

 

In addition to Yarbrough, the 4-County crews included Kyle Elam, Jason Sellers, Jimmy Stewart, Curtis Collier, Rowdy Rigdon, Justin Marlow, Brian Glusenkamp, Chance Ingram, Derrick Brumfield, Wesley Champion, Dedrick Stevenson, Justin White, Justin Murphy and Jonathan Edwards.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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