WASHINGTON — Hurricane Irma is set to make landfall as a major hurricane in Florida Saturday evening, and local first responders are just outside of the region expected to take the biggest hit, ready to answer the call if needed.
About 80 members of Virginia Task Force One from Fairfax County, as well as a few specially trained hazardous materials responders from Montgomery County, are stationed at Robins Air Force Base near Macon, Georgia. The base, near where Interstates 75 and 16 meet, allows them direct access to interstates that run down into Florida as well as east to the Atlantic Coast.
“We’re prepared for anything ranging from structural collapse, to water rescues,” said Chuck Ryan, an assistant fire chief with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, and also a member of Task Force One.
“This team has with it our water rescue assets: the boats, the trained personnel. In addition, part of the 80-person complement, and much of it is because of cross training of personnel, our structural collapse technicians and search and rescue specialists, who are trained in searching for victims in collapsed structures should that eventuality occur.”
Crews that specialize in “wide-area searches” are on hand, ready to comb through areas devastated by storm surge or high winds that leave piles of debris.
Ryan says about eight of the 80 people on hand also went to Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey.
“FEMA indicated that they might need the hazmat push pack, which is one of six in the country that is located here in Montgomery County,” said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer.
That team was actually on the way home from Houston when FEMA redirected them to the same air base in Georgia.
“I think they were at the Virginia-Tennessee border,” said Piringer. “They stood by there for a little while and then they were rerouted, initially to Alabama, and were since relocated to Robins Air Force Base.”
The rest of Maryland Task Force One is at home right now, but on standby for possible deployment.
Piringer says that group could be en route to any disaster site within about two or three hours. The crews are bracing for the possibility that they might respond to areas north of Florida that could be impacted by the storm.
However, Piringer cautions that right now, that’s only speculation.
In all, there are 28 specially trained Task Force squads nationwide.
Virginia Task Force Two, based in the Virginia Beach area, is currently stationed in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Irma has already hit.
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