Task force workers return home after helping with hurricane damage
COLUMBIA – The Missouri Task Force One returned Monday afternoon to Columbia after helping victims of hurricane Matthew.
The workers left Thursday, Oct. 6 at 10 p.m. They had learned of the mission just five hours earlier and had one hour to accept after they were first informed.
“We explain that two-week deployments like this can happen at any time,” explained Jefferson City Fire Chief Matthew Schofield.
Task Force Leader Doug Westhoff said they followed the storm up the east coast and performed some immediate search and rescue to affected areas. They worked primarily in North Carolina but also spent time in Georgia.
“We actually followed in behind the storm, doing very rapid assessments immediately after the storm passed,” Westhoff said.
The task force worked primarily in the Lumberton, North Carolina area and actually stayed in mall parking lots while there.
“I slept on the front sidewalk of JCPenny’s while our gear was hanging in the front doors there drying so we could go to work the next day,” Westhoff said.
Westhoff said while in North Carolina, there were close to 2900 statewide rescues of both humans and animals. They also worked with teams from Ohio, New York and New Jersey.
They checked on a total of 171 addresses, removed 10 citizens and assisted six people who were sheltering in place.
The task force consisted of 35 members and 10 ground members, including two canine units. There were no life threatening missions or rescues for the task force.
Westhoff also mentioned that everyone was very appreciative and supportive, and he expressed his sympathy for the victims.
“It’s gonna be years rebuilding some of these properties and a lot of these folks lost everything they had,” Westhoff said.
The task force is one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task forces in the country and the Boone County Fire Protection District is its sponsoring agency.
The task force families were grateful to have their family members back but were understanding as to why they left.
“It’s such a sudden, abrupt leave. Y’know catastrophes don’t make appointments,” said Angie Creamer, wife of Boone County Fire Chief Josh Creamer.
The task force workers returned to Columbia after an 11-day trip around 3 p.m.