Hurricane Florence showed rescue agencies what equipment they were lacking.
There was no glaring need for certain equipment during and after the storm, according to officials, but certain items that have since been acquired or are in the process of being acquired, would have made life easier for rescue workers.
“It’s better to over-prepare and not need everything,” Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller said. “We didn’t have all the assets (last time around).”
The large boat the OCSO does have, Miller said, is often used by the dive team for collecting evidence. It was used in some rescues during the hurricane, but was too deep and too large for the shallow-water situations the deputies found themselves facing.
OCSO acquired a shallow-water rescue boat through a $6,278 grant from Firehouse Subs earlier this year.
According to OCSO Capt. Larry Nobles, the shallow-water boat could be used in water as little as two feet deep. It would have been beneficial in rescues that were done by the OCSO at Rhodestown Road, Bear Creek Road and on U.S. 258 between Jacksonville and Richlands.
There is an advantage, according to Nobles, to the jon boat over an inflatable boat.
“You don’t know what’s underneath you,” Nobles said. There may be a mailbox or other sharp object sticking up from the ground, Nobles explained, which despite their ruggedness would pierce an inflatable boat but not the new rescue boat. “That boat right there gives us a little more stability.”
The sheriff also emphasized the need for more easily accessible gas and diesel stores, such as in prepositioned trucks.
“We did not run out but it was a concern for me,” Miller said.
Things had fallen into place for the Jacksonville Police Department and Jacksonville Fire and Emergency Services last time around.
JFES had 30,000 gallons of fuel saved for Florence, according to JFES Chief Jerry Hardison. About 10,000 gallons of fuel were donated to the city by race car driver Brad Keselowski, whose spouse is from the area. The department purchased seven flat-bottom jon boats during the first days of the hurricane recovery phase. They were able to buy seven dump trucks in 2017 and equip them as 7-ton-like rescue vehicles.
One of the makeshift 7-tons went in water about six feet deep during Florence and its motor was drowned, according to Hardison. But that vehicle has since been repaired.
To be better prepared next year, Hardison said, Jacksonville would need to acquire more wetsuits.
Jacksonville Director of Public Safety Mike Yaniero said a Duke Energy grant the city has applied for would help provide additional equipment for its water rescue team, such as suits that help protect them from hypothermia.
“We have to get more drysuits,” Hardison said, adding he hoped these would be paid for through grants. “They’re roughly $1,000 a piece.”
The JPD currently has about 20 drysuits, according to Hardison, but they require more. The suits are in a constant state of repair. But there’s also a problem of having more bodies to cover.
“We have more individuals that want to be part of the team,” Hardison said in reference to the officers who stepped up to say they would like to be involved in rescue efforts next time around.
If he had all the money in the world to spend, Hardison added, he would also invest in more boats.
Yaniero said they also found the need for additional boats during Hurricane Florence. The team had two boats going into the storm and purchased four additional jon boats to help with calls for residents stranded by flooding.
“They did 200 rescues and were sometimes doing rescues 2-3-4 at a time,” Yaniero said. “We had boats but had to get additional ones.”
As far as the rest of the preparations, the officials confirmed that they will continue using the preparations they did last year.
Last year, according to Hardison, JPD and JFES officers were stationed throughout the city to be readily accessible to residents in need.
According to Beth Purcell, JPD public affairs coordinator, the generator that the Jacksonville Public Safety building used last year is turned on every week to make sure it is operating smoothly for times of emergency.
The OCSO, according to Miller, set up patrols around the county to make sure that officers were around and able to respond to emergency situations when impassable roads would make doing so impossible otherwise. Officers were equipped with throwing discs — floatation devices that could be thrown to victims in high water. The OCSO office building was opened to the families of OCSO employees that needed a safe haven in which to pass the storm.
“We want to maintain something that’s working," Miller said.
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