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Inside Ohio Task Force One

Published: Thursday, May 04, 2017 @ 5:32 PM
By: Gabrielle Enright

When disaster strikes, an urban search and rescue team based in Greene County is often sent to help. Ohio Task Force One was deployed during 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and most recently, Hurricane Matthew. 

"Nothing but water. Nothing but water, " said Betty Pegues of Lumberton, North Carolina. "Scared at first but thanks be to God, we got out." 

Betty Pegues was one of the many people caught in the flood of water from Hurricane Matthew. Last fall, while embedded with the team, we watched as they helped flood victims in Lumberton. 

PHOTOS: Ohio Task Force One helps in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy

Doug Cope, a retired Xenia Fire Captain, still volunteers in Xenia Township. Now he is also serving as a task force leader of the 80-person urban search and rescue team made up of professionals from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. Last fall, WHIO-TV photographer Chuck Hamlin and I were embedded with the team as they helped hurricane victims in Lumberton, North Carolina. 

"We've got all boats assigned and they're all on a mission," said Cope. "They're in dire straights and we're trying to do everything we can to help them." 

With water rising, Ohio Task Force One used boats to rescue people who were stranded. 

"It was slow at first in the back by the river, but then all of a sudden it just hit and when it hit, it hit hard," said Tyrone Miller, a resident of Lumberton.

Sometimes those being rescued, are not people at all. 

"We've got to do something or the cows are going to die," said Susie Burney, of Fayetteville, North Carolina. 

Members of the task force also rescued cattle trapped when a farm pond flooded. They travel in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles and often sleep in trucks or tents. FEMA decides the mission.

RELATED: Ohio Task Force One called to help area hit by tornadoes

"We're waiting for our next assignment, whether that be another search operation tomorrow or demobilization home, " said Cope.

When the team isn't saving lives, its members are training. Many are doctors, paramedics and firefighters. 

"I'm always ready to go. It's my passion, " Cope said. 

For the task force leader and the others, this is not just a job. It is a calling.