Local water rescue team in ‘state of readiness’ to assist with Hurricane Florence

As large storm surges started hitting the East Coast Thursday, the first signs of Hurricane Florence’s arrival, a team of 18 local first responders were preparing to jump into action when the time came.

The team, made of up members from South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart and Clay and Warsaw township fire departments, left for North Carolina Tuesday and are now stationed in Havelock, a coastal town about two hours from Raleigh.

The local members are part of the MABAS Division 201 Technical Rescue Team, which is made up of 86 people. These specific members were requested because of their advance training in water rescue, Chad Carey, Elkhart fire chief, said. Requests for help can be sent out from FEMA or from the state in need.

Hauling all of their own equipment with them to the East Coast, the team is prepared for direct and swift water rescues where someone’s life may be in danger or flood rescue where people could be stuck in their homes by high water.

“Our team is well known,” Carey said about their abilities in water rescue. “Our team is highly trained and developed. They are pretty advanced.”

First responders from across the country come to the Indiana River Rescue School in South Bend, Carey said. It’s known to be a premier training ground for swift water rescue. Having a well-known training program and being requested to help in other parts of the country because of that is a point of pride for the chief.

“I’m very proud to have the opportunity to send members of our staff. It makes us feel good we can help others with our specialized training,” he said. “All of the members of this team are very good at what they do.”

More members could have been sent, but the departments had to make sure they had the staffing to maintain operations locally. Team members were chosen with an aim to cause the least amount of stress on day-to-day operations, Carey said.

The local departments cover the initial costs of travel and operation, but they’ll be reimbursed by state and federal emergency money, he said.

Rescue teams from St. Joseph and Elkhart counties aren’t the only ones from Indiana that headed to the East Coast. The Indiana Task Force 1 Urban Search & Rescue Team has 86 members in Wilmington, N.C. Among that Indiana team are six canine units specialized in search and rescue.

Thursday, the local water rescue team received its first briefing and spent the day preparing equipment and becoming familiar with the area. While they are stationed in Havelock now, Carey said, the team will move around as they are needed and are now in a state of readiness awaiting the brunt of Hurricane Florence to hit. Right now the team is planning on being in North Carolina for roughly 10 days, but will extend or shorten the trip as needed.

“We help out at home every day,” Carey said. “To help outside of state lines, it’s pretty amazing.”

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