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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

After two weeks, Task Force 7 comes home

Monday, November 12, 2012

Brian Husband, Clay County Emergency Management Agency Director, hugs Van Buren Township Volunteer Fire Department Michael Short as Van Buren Fire Chief Tod Haring looks on. [Order this photo]
CLOVERDALE -- Start spreading the news. Members of Task Force 7 are home from New York after two weeks of post-Hurricane Sandy emergency response activity.

And like the song says, if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere.

That's exactly how the 23 emergency service personnel who rolled into Cloverdale Sunday afternoon in a convoy of safety vehicles from five counties feel after their two-week deployment to the East Coast as the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 7 Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT).

Clay County was represented by Emergency Management Agency Director Bryan Husband, Van Buren Township Fire Chief Tod Haring and Van Buren firefighter Michael Short.

Husband, who was greeted at the Cloverdale Fire Station in Putnam County by daughter Bri and grandson Madden Husband, age 3, was stunned by the amount of the damage to the Barrier Island of Long Beach.

"The enormity of what there was to deal with was incredible," he said. "A hurricane is totally different from a tornado like we're used to. A tornado is more a narrow path. With the hurricane, the entire island was affected."

Husband was also struck by the image-shattering nature of the New Yorkers the responders encountered.

"We made friendships," he said. "Not just friendships on the team but on Long Beach. People were calling us by name, they knew who we were. That was interesting."

But like the others responders, Husband was happy to be back home after two weeks away.

"It was definitely a challenge," he said. "But the team performed flawlessly, and we made a difference, which is what we wanted to do.

"We left it better than it was when we got there."

Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent, who headed the incident command team, agreed. "We're all very happy to be home, it was a good mission though."

The mission was also a first for Indiana, dispatching an incident management team to a natural disaster in another locale.

"So we were breaking new ground," Newgent noted.

The group spent its entire time on the East Coast in New York, assisting local emergency personnel with overall management of the incident, including command, planning, logistics, fiscal duties, documentation, safety and providing personnel.

"We saw huge changes from when we got there to when we left," Newgent observed. "They were still in response mode when we arrived. They were still getting people out of their homes (or what was left of them)."

The local unit was deployed to the Barrier Island of Long Beach, which Newgent said is four miles long, one mile wide and has a population of 44,000, of which 20,000 did not evacuate the island in the face of Hurricane Sandy and the onslaught of Mother Nature.

"We had to sit down and identify issues from power grid damage to basic human services," he said. "There was very critical, basic stuff that needed to be restored."

The island had no power, no sewer, no water and no Internet service.

"We had no communication in Long Beach whatsoever," the chief added.

The hurricane was over before the Task Force arrived, so the emergency personnel from Putnam, Clay, Parke, Vigo, Vermillion and Sullivan counties found themselves in the middle of "primarily a very large flood event," Newgent noted.

All of that was soon compounded by seven inches of snow in Jericho, the town in which the group bivouaced at an impressive fire station. Long Beach, meanwhile, got 3-inches of white stuff, which turned its roads into obstacle courses.

"Obviously roads were still blocked in places," Newgent said, "and people were bringing debris down to the edge of the road, which covered up storm drains and led to even more localized flooding."

So first Hurricane Sandy, then flooding, then a snowstorm, followed by a small earthquake. And don't forget, Election Day was thrown in there too for good measure.

The floodwaters had overrun several Long Beach polling stations, so the emergency crews had to help restore those as well.

"And you could tell it was Election Day, too," Cloverdale firefighter Brad Roberson interjected, noting that the locals were intent on politicking even as emergency crews tried to restore order so the process could unfold.

Overall, the team drew high praise from its commander, Melissa Buell of Parke County.

"They're phenomenal," she said. "This team was also the first one deployed to Henryville (for the tornado). District 7 has been one of the lead districts, if not the lead district in the state.

"First to call, first to volunteer, first to serve. That's how it's been."

The secret to its success has been hard work, she offered.

"District 7 responders and personnel have really been diligent in taking training and performing at state-level exercises," Buell said. "And to see it come to fruition in a situation like this has been amazing."

Especially considering that no more than a handful of personnel come from the same department. Greencastle, for example, was represented by Chief Newgent and firefighters Brian Poole and Kurt Shepherd.

"For 23 people from different counties and different agencies to come together and work and get along so well the way they have, you'd never know they were from so many different areas," Buell added.

As she spoke, Roberson handed her a small, square piece of wood, probably about 4-by-6 inches.

"It's a piece of the Boardwalk," Buell said, explaining they weren't souvenir hunters. "They have to rebuild the entire project. They told us to take as much as we wanted. They said, 'We don't want to have to clean it up.'"

Roberson, whose main responsibility was managing the supplies at the site, said he didn't get to interact with the townspeople the way many of the others did but he could sense the thankfulness and appreciation.

"Daily during our drive in and out, you could see the changes in such a short time," he said. "It was pretty amazing.

"You can see things like this on TV, like Katrina and all that, but to actually see it firsthand, that's amazing as well."

Besides the newness of just being in New York, experiencing a Nor'easter was a first for virtually the entire Hoosier team.

Yet to a person, they said they would do it all over again. And soon if necessary.

"Sure," Newgent said, "but give me a couple of weeks."

Buell, too, would be ready to return to the frontline.

"Like the others," she said, "if I could have gone home for a couple of days and hugged my kids and said 'happy birthday' to the ones whose birthdays I missed, I would have gone back. Others would have, too."

Apparently, they want to be a part of it, New York, New York.

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Thanks guys/gals. I know your efforts were appreciated and I for one am proud of you.

-- Posted by indianamama on Tue, Nov 13, 2012, at 1:31 PM

Great job......thanks for being who you are!

-- Posted by Proud of My Country on Mon, Nov 19, 2012, at 6:31 PM

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