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Ohio Task Force 1 is home again, ending Hurricane Matthew deployment

Published: Thursday, October 06, 2016 @ 11:38 PM
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2016 @ 12:44 AM
By: Breaking News Staff

UPDATE @ 10:30 p.m. (Oct. 12): Ohio Task Force 1, its six-day deployment prompted by Hurricane Matthew now a completed mission, returned Wednesday afternoon to home base on Wilmington Pike in Kettering with a sense of accomplishment and the ever-present sense of a call to duty.

“This is the most rewarding experience I have had personally since the World Trade Center and I know it’s impacted a lot of the other guys the same way,” task force leader Doug Cope told News Center 7’s Natalie Jovonovich.

“Most of the hurricanes have been wide area searches on land because until just recently, we didn’t have watercraft in our system,” Cope said when asked what set this mission to the southeastern United States apart from others. “So they put a mechanism in place for us to get the watercraft to train on it and we proved that it worked.”

News Center 7 reporter/anchor Gabrielle Enright and photographer Chuck Hamlin were embedded with the team to record Cope and the 83 members of the task force, in a 15-vehicle convoy rescue 100 people and more than two-dozen animals in the areas of Fayetteville and Lumberton, N.C.

In Lumberton, the team that included six search dogs, three semitrailers, three box trucks, the team bus, four rescue boats and several other support vehicles was deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a levee break where an estimated 1,500 people were reported stranded.

The team worked nonstop in the area of Fayetteville, rescuing at least 24 people, family pets and a dozen head of cattle.

There, task force members Mike Lutz and Andrew Herbert, who are Cincinnati firefighters, were part of the rescue of a family of four trapped in their flooded home for several hours.

“We swung around, trying to get through the current, and we see someone beating on the window of a house … We couldn’t go to where they were at because we would have been pinned against the house,” Lutz said.

Lutz and Herbert maneuvered the boat toward the rear of the house, where the water was moving slower. Herbert broke a window to get in. He found three people in their 20s and a woman in her 60s. They were cold and had been in the house for about seven hours. The older woman could not walk and the rescuers had to lift her through the window to get her in the boat.

“Those people were in a very bad situation that we helped them get away from,” Herbert said.

Lutz said it was a complicated rescue, his first swift-water rescue in a flooded environment.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “At least we were able to come down here and do what we’re supposed to do so it was nice,” he said.

FEMA initially assigned the task force and 10 other rescue groups to Lakeland, Fla. Reassignment orders sent the team to Columbia, S.C., to Savannah, Ga., then to Charlotte, N.C., and finally to Fayetteville and Lumberton.

Wednesday evening, Jeff Turner, a hazmat specialist with the task force, said, “It was a wonderful experience to be able to help these people and see the smile on their faces when we were helping them.”

FIRST REPORT (Oct. 6): News Center 7’s Gabrielle Enright and photographer Chuck Hamlin are embedded with the team and will be the news team in the Miami Valley bringing you exclusive reports from the devastation.

The team of 80 members from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana left around midnight Friday from the Dayton-Kettering area. 

The 14-vehicle caravan of trucks and equipment — complete with an Ohio Highway Patrol escort at least through Tennessee — is to arrive in Florida by 5 p.m.

As the caravan pulled out, Ohio Task Force 1 posted the following to its Facebook page:

“The state of Florida has made a request for federal US&R [Urban Search & Rescue] assistance beyond the initial assignment of the two Virginias and Maryland. Accordingly, the US&R branch activated the following at the request of Region IV:

Tennessee TF1, Ohio TF1, Pennsylvania TF1, Indiana TF1, New Jersey TF1, New York TF1, and Missouri TF1. Task Forces have been directed to preliminary staging locations in Georgia or Florida pending potential assignment to SC, GA or FL.

OH-TF1 is deploying as a Type I US&R task force, and will travel by ground to their assigned staging area to await the hurricane’s movement through and out of the region.”

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