When Illinois Task Force One arrived in Riegelwood, North Carolina, there was water everywhere.
“Because the water was going up and by the time we got there water was really high. There was incidents where there was water well over six feet. They were dealing with houses that were flooded well up to the roofline,” said Chuck Gros, a Naperville firefighter/paramedic who also served as Illinois Task Force One’s team leader.
Hurricane Florence submerged or washed away roads and the nearby Cape Fear River flooded so dramatically the landscape was more swamp than forest.
Gros’ team had a simple goal – help the town recover from the disaster and perform as many rescues as possible.
“The team rescued 18 people,” said Gros. “There was 18 rescues and there were five individuals that were- if the guys weren’t there at the time they arrived, those individuals wouldn’t be here today. So true life-saving rescues.”
The team also did things like make a gas station serviceable again after it had been submerged. They used generators to provide power and give residents the chance to fuel their cars and leave the city.
These types of missions weren’t totally new to Gros, who also performed rescues in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. But there were still several differences.
“We didn’t see the massive destruction that I saw in Katrina,” said Gros. “But what we did see was flooded out homes and cars and debris pretty much everywhere. The situation that we ran into on this one was much more personal. We got really involved with the community.”
The 13-day experience helped Gros and his team reconnect with the reason they became firefighters.
“Every fireman wants to help people,” said Gros. “Down there we helped hundreds and hundreds of people. And at the end of the day we just kind of sat back and took a deep breath and said ‘Wow, did that really happen?’”
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.