Workers, volunteers ready to help with Irma

With another hurricane barreling toward the U.S., local emergency workers and volunteers are again getting ready to help with recovery efforts.

A team of 22 firefighters and other emergency workers from across Indiana returned from Texas yesterday after spending about a week assisting with recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey, but with Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, more could be dispatched to offer their assistance.

Justin Laraway, who has been with the Greenwood Fire Department since 2000, spent a week in Texas as part of an Indy Task Force 1 water rescue team. The task force, one of 28 urban search and rescue teams across the country managed by the Department of Homeland Security, has more than 200 members on a rotating schedule to determine who is called up during an emergency.

The group searched through neighborhoods around Port Arthur and Beaumont, east of Houston, Indy Task Force 1 spokesperson Mike Pruitt said. Members also assisted with the evacuation of 1,500 people, who were flown out on military transport aircraft, he said.

While they didn’t end up conducting any water rescues, they did assist ranchers in moving cattle out of flooded areas, Pruitt said.

It was difficult to see people in those positions of losing everything, Laraway said.

The water rescue team was tasked with going through neighborhoods, and checking to make sure none of the residents had been left behind. What impressed Laraway the most was how Texans had stepped up to help each other during and after the hurricane, he said.

“Texans are the most American people we have,” Laraway said.

Even in the week after the hurricane, they had to be cautious when traveling. At one point, Laraway was driving was on a road with water a couple of feet deep, while other roads were impassible due to the amount of water.

Laraway said he was thankful for the opportunity to assist in the recovery efforts.

“We’re all fireman,” he said. “We’re very reactive people. When something goes wrong, we feel it is our job to mitigate the situation.”

Now, the attention is shifting east, where a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic is heading toward Florida, with a potential landfall there this weekend.

A four-person hazardous materials team from the task force is leaving for an Alabama staging area today, where they will be ready to assist with recovery efforts, Pruitt said.

Another 80 members of the task force have already been put on alert that they could be sent to Florida, but FEMA already has eight of those teams assigned from other states, he said.

“They could add more,” Pruitt said. “They are still unsure what additional resources are needed at this point.”

Beyond the immediate rescue work, volunteers will be helping residents of Florida and Texas as they deal with the aftermath of the hurricanes. The American Red Cross will soon begin training volunteers to aid in the recovery efforts in Texas and Florida, volunteer spokesperson Wendy Starr said.

More than 70 volunteers from Indiana are already serving in Texas and Florida, she said.

Volunteers with medical and mental health expertise and the proper certifications are needed, but anyone is welcome, Starr said. People wanting to volunteer can contact the Red Cross at 888-684-1441.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.