XENIA — Ohio Task Force 1 members recently returned from a hazardous mission in southeastern Kentucky — a state they were deployed to last December to assist tornado-ravaged Mayfield.
A 16-person Mission Ready Package Water Rescue team departed the Dayton Airport terminal just before 8 p.m. on July 28, and joined a 19-vehicle convoy, arriving near Corbin, Kentucky, late that evening. The team arrived at the National Guard Armory, in Hazard, the next morning.
Working alongside other Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) US&R teams (Indiana and Tennessee Task Force 1), the teams encountered heavy damage in the area which included trees and/or power lines down, roads washed out or impassable, and mudslides. There was little to no cell phone service and radio transmission was difficult. Boat crews worked 12-hour days searching for missing persons or those in need of assistance.
OH-TF1 was asked to increase the team from the MRP-Water team to a 45-person Type III team. Twenty-nine additional personnel and four search canines, as well as additional equipment, left before midnight to join the water team.
For the next five days, the team conducted wide-area search and rescue operations using boats, vehicles, and personnel on foot. On Aug. 1, three additional canines and their handlers were activated to join the Type III team.
In total, OH-TF1 members captured nearly 1,200 way points (a GPS data collection system) of information identifying the status of more than 1,000 structures as well as other important data, such as stranded animals, hazardous materials, downed power lines, washed out roads, etc., according to Emily Reynolds of OH-TF1’s planning team.
The team had 57 encounters with people in the area of Breathitt County, some in need of assistance and some sheltering in place.
Lt. Brian Hedrick, who has volunteered with OH-TF1 for eight years, traveled to Kentucky as a water rescue specialist. The Beavercreek Township Fire Department Station 54 fire house supervisor has seen hurricane and tornado damage but was overwhelmed at what he and his team observed.
“It was devastating. The amount of force the flooding caused, it totally destroyed homes,” Hedrick said. “We operated mainly near the city of Jackson, near Troublesome Creek. We brought boats to help provide with searches, we checked on people, delivered food to residents, etc. We provided data for our command for some of the houses on the river that we had searched until dark. Saturday, we did a ground-based search and Sunday and Monday, we had boats in the water looking for missing people.”
Lt. Nick Fathergill, a Beavercreek Township firefighter and canine search specialist, usually brings two Labradors, Storm (a life-find dog) and Sunny (a remains-detection dog), on a mission. He was deployed along with fellow OH-TF1 members, Lt. Doug Randsdell, rescue squad officer, Lt. Tyson Dean, water rescue specialist, and Fairborn Fire Department member, Josh Lawrence, medical specialist.
“We supplement the town’s emergency services as they just don’t have the resources,” said Fathergill, who’s dogs were kept busy searching through flood debris. “This magnitude was way over what the town could handle on their own. I’ve likened it to a tornado. It was worse than I thought it would be.”
According to Christina O’Conner, OH-TF1 public information manager, “There was a significant amount of debris flowing downstream that presented dangerous hazards in the water such as refrigerators, walls of buildings, and large trees. River debris could cause damage to the boats, motor props, or get clogged around the water intake parts of the motors.”
After completing their assigned missions, the team was placed in a state of readiness and staged in Lexington at the request of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Down time was used to clean and rehab equipment as well as conduct additional training with members of the team.
Eventually, the rain held off and water levels fell. The team was released Aug. 11 to return home.