Last Saturday, four members of Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company traveled to North Carolina to provide additional support for fire companies following Hurricane Florence.
Assistant Chief Jeff Sands, Capt. James Farley, Sola Johnson and Marc Doyle were among the 11 firefighters from New Castle County and around 40 other firefighters from Delaware to respond.
“All the departments back here are like a big cheerleading team,” said John Farrell IV, a spokesman for Aetna. “We’re really proud that they’re down there and they’re representing us.”
The group was deployed along with members from Christiana and Hockessin fire companies. Sands said that Christiana crew brought their fire engine, the Hockessin crew came with their tanker and the Aetna group brought a brush truck and utility truck.
Sands said that the ride down early Saturday started out beautiful but as they got further south, it grew darker and the storm picked up. As soon as they got to Raleigh, they were deployed to Carteret County, which is on the coast, just south of the Outer Banks.
“It was a pretty hard hit area by the storm,” Sands said in a phone interview as the group headed back to Delaware on Wednesday afternoon. “The reports we were getting from folks that are in charge down there were that they really needed some help.”
The group was scheduled to meet with a state fire marshal who would escort them to Morehead City because of the amount of closed roads that made navigating difficult.
“As we were getting down there, the storm was really, really hard,” he said. “We were facing a lot of winds and rain, flooded roadways; we really had a difficult time navigating even using Waze and some other apps to try to get to where we were meeting our guide who would then try to bring us to Morehead City itself.”
When they connected with their guide, the group tried several different routes that proved unsuccessful due to flooding. Eventually, Sands said, they ended up taking a floating bridge that had about two feet of water flowing across it.
When they arrived in Morehead City, they spent the night in the municipal building, which was powered by a generator. Sands described the building as “pretty rough conditions,” as it had been damaged by the storm, with rainwater coming through the ceiling.
Another group from Delaware stayed on there, while the New Castle County group headed east to Marshallberg to assist the volunteer fire company there for two-and-a-half days.
“That’s an area that encompasses about three towns, about 22-square miles. When we arrived there, their station was completely uninhabitable. It had only been the fire chief and one other firefighter that had been responding on emergency calls during the storm because everybody else had evacuated,” Sands explained.
The generator at the station had failed and the diesel tank had leaked during the storm, spilling 200 gallons of diesel fuel throughout the inside of the station.
On the first day, Sands said, they cleaned up the fuel. A firefighter from Christiana, who is also a mechanic, got the generator running after 12 hours of work, Sands said.
The following day, they began assisting the department on calls.
“Their district is very rural; it is right on the coast, and so it was hit pretty hard – lots of trees into houses,” he said. “We ended up clearing a number of trees out of roadways to enable people to get out of their houses for the first time since the storm.”
The group also went door-to-door completing welfare checks and giving water and packaged meals to those in the area.
“Almost everybody had run out of fuel for their generators, so they’d lost all their refrigerated food and frozen food,” he said. “So that was a pretty significant loss for them.”
Afterward, they headed about nine miles north to Davis, N.C., where they helped tarp a damaged roof so a family could stay in their house.
Sands said the town had turned the local firehouse into a makeshift food pantry so people could pick up ice and water or take showers.
“It was pretty neat seeing how the community was coming together,” he said. “And then these people that had been utterly devastated by this hurricane and had little or nothing left were bringing us food to thank us for being there, for coming, to talk with us. We were the first responders to see a lot of these people and they were just amazed that people were there from Delaware to help them, bringing them water; they were extremely grateful for that. The southern hospitality really shone through the whole thing; it was pretty remarkable.”
After Davis, the group returned to Raleigh, where they were demobilized and sent back to Delaware on Wednesday afternoon.
“We know folks would come help us if we had the same kind of issue. If that hurricane had come a little further north up the coast and it hit Delaware, we would have had resources streaming in from across the country if we needed them,” Sands said. “So it was really nice that we were able to drop what we were doing and go help them.”