Seven Northwest Florida fire departments help with Hurricane Ida recovery in Louisiana
Firefighters reliably come running whenever and wherever they are called on to lend a helping hand.
But local firefighters recently answered a call for help from a bit farther away than usual.
Firefighters from seven fire departments in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties have been in Thibodaux, Louisiana, for the past week helping with Hurricane Ida recovery efforts.
Jeff Wagner, deputy chief of the Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District, is leading a "strike team" that also includes representatives from the Crestview Fire Department, Fort Walton Beach Fire Department, North Bay Fire Control District, South Walton Fire District, Niceville Fire Department and Pace Fire Rescue District.
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"So our guys' function currently is to just support the local fire departments — responding to local emergencies and helping them with their calls so the local fire crews can go take care of their families and their residences and just have a little reprieve," Wagner said in a phone interview with the Daily News on Wednesday.
"They've all been working for over a week trying to just stabilize the situation after the hurricane. So our first main function is to offer them some relief so they can take care of the stuff that they need to take care of and have a break."
Hurricane Ida made landfall in southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29 as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm is estimated to have caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, left more than 1 million people without power, and contributed to at least 26 deaths in Louisiana and over 50 more between Virginia and Massachusetts, according to the Associated Press.
Thibodaux, a city of close 15,000 people about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, was spared the worst of Ida's wrath, according to Wagner. The community is now a staging area for first responders from across the country, including departments from Illinois, Kansas, Texas and a sizable contingent of the National Guard.
"We brought five engine companies with us," Wagner said of the local strike team. "Each of those engines had four personnel, and then we brought in emergency vehicle technician, essentially a fire truck mechanic, and somebody driving a truck with some extra diesel fuel on it."
The team will be deployed in the area for two weeks.
On Wednesday, power was still out there.
"They're anticipating starting to re-energize the power system here, and the expectation is that when they start to re-energize the power system that's going to cause fires, possibly to the extent that's just overwhelming to the local fire suppression agencies," Wagner said. "So we'll also be here to supplement that effort."
Ocean City-Wright Fire chief Mark Bundrick said from his Fort Walton Beach office Wednesday that local agencies were on standby to provide additional support if needed.
"If they run short of something or have something break down or whatever, we'll have a support vehicle taking whatever parts or supplies that they need," Bundrick said of the strike team. "But it's sounding like they're very well taken care of."
The strike team is being housed at a Nichols University in Thibodaux and provided with resting, dining and shower facilities. In their downtime, the group has been working out with the area fire departments and helping distribute supplies to the community between service calls.
"They've just really brought us in, and just kind of made us part of their own and taken good care of us," Wagner said of the Thibodaux first responders. "They're very grateful that we're here, and it's just a good feeling to be able to help people out in their time of need."
Wagner also expressed gratitude to Northwest Florida citizens, noting their support and goodwill allowed the strike team to help in other communities and helped assure others would return the favor when we call out for help.
"Our local Okaloosa County citizens provide for us so we can provide for others, and when our time comes (other communities will be) able to come help us," he said.