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NH water rescue team headed to North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 12. 2018 4:49PM
Firefighters from Bedford, Amherst, Bedford, Goffstown, Keene, Conway, North Conway and Manchester departments gather at the Bedford Fire Department early Wednesday morning before beginning their journey to North Carolina. (COURTESY)

After years of training and dedication, New Hampshire’s swift water rescue team is deploying for the first time outside the state to assist hurricane victims.

A 14-member Task Force One swift water response team is enroute to North Carolina, which is expecting days of flooding in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Members of the team are drawn from fire departments from North Conway to Manchester.

For three years, Federal Emergency Management Administration grants have helped purchase equipment and fund training for flood events, said Bedford Deputy Chief Scott Hunter.

“It’s been coming together for years with lots of training and lots of equipment,” Hunter said. “This one was really grassroots. It started with the local responders wanting to do this.”

All the hard work culminated at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, when five vehicles with five boats and three trailers left Bedford for Raleigh, where they will be wait to jump into action once Hurricane Florence hits.

The state capital is located about 130 miles from Wilmington, the coastal city where Hurricane Florence is expected to come ashore.

Manchester firefighter Tom Defina said he was experiencing both adrenaline rushes and anxiety as the rescue truck he was riding in approached the Virginia border.

“There’s resources in place. We’ve got some good equipment; we’ll work safely,” he said.

That work will inevitably involve rescuing people who didn’t heed warnings, Defina said.

The firefighter may meet up with a familiar face down south. Former Manchester Fire Department Deputy Chief Nick Campasano heads the fire service in Wake County where Raleigh is located.

“Their job is to move around rivers, lakes, streams and areas that are flooded,” said Manchester fire Lt. Robert Field, who handles traning in his department.

The most important equipment the team is bringing along is a 14-foot inflatable boat with a 40-horsepower jet drive outboard motor.

Rescues in urban efforts can be challenging. Sewage mixes with flood waters, so care has to be taken to avoid exposure to contaminants. People who need to be rescued often suffer from physical disabilities, so they may have to be lifted into a raft or a wheelchair may have to be loaded aboard.

Rescue workers bring cages along as people will sometime refuse to evacuate unless their pets are taken too.

Raft-toppling obstructions such as automobiles or trees can be just under the water’s surface. North Carolina also offers other natural challenges, such as poisonous snakes swimming in the floodwater.

“They’re in an area they just don’t know,” Field said.

The biggest challenge is likely be wind. At 50 to 60 mph it becomes impossible to do much of anything, rescue workers then must wait for it to subside.

The team will work 12-hour shifts and then rest for 12 hours for 10 days.

The Granite State team is part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows rescue workers to respond to other states to help in the event of a disaster. The state of North Carolina will eventually pay for the work of the New Hampshire rescue workers.

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