WARSAW — Two Warsaw-Wayne firefighters were recently deployed with a swift water rescue team to help with rescue efforts after Hurricane Florence. Brent Fifer and Nate Iden attended the Warsaw Common Council meeting on Oct. 15, to give a presentation of their rescue efforts.
The team left from South Bend on Sept. 11, and traveled to North Carolina. The total trip lasted nine days and the team performed 169 rescues or evacuations to residents in need.
Their journey began in Havelock, N.C., where Hurricane Florence was originally expected to make landfall. The hurricane ended up veering off its path, but the area still saw winds up to 105 miles per hour, lots of rain and even two tornados.
“It was pretty wild to be in a hurricane and find out that two tornados went through also … pretty wild,” said Fifer.
After helping there, the team moved to Hampstead, where the hurricane actually ended up making landfall. During their first day there, the team made 107 rescues.
The firefighters showed videos and pictures of catastrophic flooding. Their images showed highways covered completely by water and homes flooded towards the rooftops.
The team also completed rescues in Burgaw.
They shared two main rescue stories. In one instance, they had checked a house once and found no one. When going by the house again, the men heard a woman yelling. They were able to find her in the attic of her home. The men worked to remove her from her home. They stated the water was flooded above the countertops in her kitchen. After rescuing her, a border control helicopter picked her up from the boat via a cage to save the hour boat ride back to non-flooded areas.
The men also rescued two residents and 14 German Shepherds from inside one home. They stated that they were able to rescue all the dogs, but the homeowners also had goats inside their home that had to be left at the home.
“They asked if they had somewhere they could take the dogs. The guy was trying to explain where we could possibly take these dogs. I just told him, ‘hey, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m from Indiana.’ He broke down crying,” recalled Fifer. “He couldn’t believe that we came from Indiana to help him. That was a very humbling experience. At the time, I wasn’t very happy because we were dealing with all these dogs … but then to see this guy break down into tears was a very moving experience to me.”
During the trip, the rescues were made possible due to the durable boats the team had access to. The Zodiac Milpro rescue boats travel in bags and are inflated on location. The biggest challenge with these boats was carrying them across stretches of dry land. The men estimated that with the motors, the boats weigh around 500 pounds.
The men explained that currently, Warsaw-Wayne Fire Department only has a flat-bottom John Boat for swift water rescues. They showed photographs of how quickly their boat takes on water when attempting rescues. They hinted to the council that in the future, they would like to purchase a boat designed for water rescues.
“We don’t have the equipment,” explained Fifer. “We’ve got the trained people but our boat is less than ideal.”
The Warsaw-Wayne Fire Department has eight firefighters trained in swift water rescue.
The swift water rescue team was prepared to help with Hurricane Michael, but this hurricane did not bring the necessary flooding needed for the team to respond.