Missouri task force members help in Irma rescue efforts
COLUMBIA - Some of Missouri's elite first responders are once again returning to hurricane recovery efforts, but this time for Hurricane Irma.
Missouri Task Force 1 spent 13 days helping in the relief and rescue efforts for Hurricane Harvey. Now, 12 members out of the original 47 responders are spread out among the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, and Georgia.
Part of the the group is the Incident Support Team, which is in charge of managing all of Missouri Task Force 1's assets for Hurricane Irma, while the other group is out on search and recovery missions.
Assistant Chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District Gale Blomenkamp said the Human Remain Detection (HRD) dogs were at St.Thomas Tuesday performing searches for victims in either destroyed or partially destroyed buildings.
"The group is looking for dead victims unfortunately, it’s just one of those things that is part of a disaster. So HRD is really kind of new in the URS [urban search and rescue] world so to speak," Blomenkamp said.
Blomenkamp said the biggest challenge that is different from Hurricane Harvey versus Hurricane Irma is access to the affected areas.
"We got people in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. John, and to get those members and get those assets onto those islands is difficult because airports aren’t there or they are not open. You are trying to find boats you are trying to fly members and their equipment onto these islands to do some work," Blomenkamp said. “That takes a huge coordinated effort to make that happen."
Missouri Task Force 1 is part of the national response system that is made up of 28 teams across the country. 15 teams are currently deployed in rescue efforts. Even though Missouri was not deployed as a task force, Blomenkamp said there are a lot Missouri members in key positions working Hurricane Irma.
"We sent a member down Monday with a different task force as part of the USR specialist, down in the Keys. The Florida Keys are being searched now, so he is helping coordinate efforts down there," Blomenkamp said.
The task force is working hand-in-hand with locals and Blomenkamp said mid-Missouri people are not afraid to get their hands dirty and work side-by-side with the locals
"Every disaster starts local and every disaster is going to end at the local level, so we are at that transition point where we are trying to assist them and get as much work done as quickly as possible," Blomenkamp said.