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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Task Force 7 members back home again in Indiana after East Coast experience

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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).

From the moment Cloverdale firefighter Brad Roberson stepped out from behind the wheel of the Cloverdale Volunteer Fire Department emergency response vehicle to have daughter Amanda leap into his arms to hug him, the emotion of the experience was apparent.

"We're all very happy to be home," Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent said. "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.

Barely out of from behind the steering wheel Sunday afternoon Cloverdale volunteer firefighter Brad Roberson gets a hug from daughter Amanda, 13, as he and 22 other members of Task Force 7 return from a two-week deployment to the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The group rolled into Cloverdale in a convoy of vehicles about 2 p.m. Sunday.
"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 bivouacked at an impressive fire station. Long Beach, meanwhile, got three 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's 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 Kenny Shepherd as well as IT expert Tom Swenson.

"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 x 6 inches.

A piece of the boardwalk is displayed by Cloverdale firefighter Brad Roberson Sunday as he returns home from a two-week deployment to New York with Indiana Task Force 7 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Responders were given souvenir pieces of the boardwalk, which will have to be completely replaced after the storm damage.
"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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Job well done, people,thank you all.

-- Posted by interestedperson#1 on Tue, Nov 13, 2012, at 12:13 PM

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