By Chris Bavender
Two Westfield residents were among nine people from Indiana and surrounding states who deployed to Louisiana to help residents impacted by Hurricane Ida. They’re part of the Edinburgh-based nonprofit volunteer organization Civilian Crisis Response Team – Disaster Services.
Westfield resident Jeremy Snarski is the executive director of Disaster Services and a swift water rescue operator and sawyer, or chainsaw operator. Westfield resident Deborah Miller is credentialed in search and rescue and sawyer. Most of the volunteers also are trained in search and rescue and incident command.
“We do not go into a disaster area unless we are invited. We do not self-deploy,” Miller said. “Our ideal fit is to go into smaller communities that do not receive aid right away when a disaster strikes, the fringe of major cities where FEMA is not responsive.”
The group was invited by Eight Ward Fire Dept. Chief Ira Brown, of Ponchatoula, La., to assist with water rescues.
“The fire department had a couple of people trained in water rescue but did not have the proper equipment and personnel to handle an emergency of this magnitude on their own,” Miller said.
The group left Indiana Aug. 28 and drove through the night, arriving in Louisiana around 10 a.m. Aug. 29.
“The hurricane struck our area later in the afternoon and raged through the night. We rode out the storm in the fire stations,” Miller said. “This was my first time in a hurricane, and it was very intense. I never felt in danger, but the winds were strong and there was a lot of rain.”
Miller assisted with dispatch and kept track of the situation and personnel by maintaining radio contact with everyone going to a rescue situation. For three days, the CCRT team went on calls with the fire department.
“In the end, we rescued 15 people, nine animals and performed 10 welfare checks,” Miller said. “We provided medical care to three people, removed 18 trees and went on 19 calls.”
Miller was impressed by the way residents rallied after the storm to help each other.
“It was not unusual for the fire department members to be helping clear trees before or after their shift for their neighbors and family,” she said. “People pitched in to make sure neighbors were safe and called us in when needed. Community members also dropped off food to the fire station as they were emptying their freezers so the food wouldn’t spoil.”
Miller said it was heartbreaking to see so much devastation.
“There were huge trees down, cars in the water, fast water over the bridges and homeowners stranded by water in their yards,” she said. “It’s going to take months before the power is back on and people can return to some semblance of their previous life.”
The group returned to Indiana Sept. 3. Miller said the best way to help after a natural disaster like Hurricane Ida is to donate to specific churches, fire departments and volunteer agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
“Please don’t pack up a truck with clothing and head to the area. You are just adding to the burden of the people who are going through the devastation,” Miller said. “There is nowhere to put items that you might bring down. We have the training to be effective and not put ourselves in danger unnecessarily.”
To learn more about CCRT or to donate, visit 7ccrt.org. Volunteers pay for their own training and equipment, expenses at the disaster site, and drive their own vehicles.