Swannanoa Fire Department & Black Mountain Fire Department combined resources to provide rescue services to the victims of Hurricane Floyd on the East Coast of NC. Swannanoa provided 3 rescuers and a zodiac rescue boat and Black Mountain provided 2 personnel and a crewcab pickup. The following is a collection of some photos taken and occurrences during the trip.
After sleeping on an airport runway after the drive to the East Coast and the tours from closed interstates and roads, the first day of missions began. Areas of the Tick Bite community had not been scouted and some people in the area were still contemplating their decision to leave or stay with the still rising water.
Launching a boat like our Zodiac can prove difficult in certain areas. A launch vehicle would have to back a long way down a road to get proper depth for launch. The problem was settled by backing the trailer at an angle into a ditchline with greater depth, launching the boat and travelling down the ditch with the prop just below the water line. It is an odd experience to drive a boat around mailboxes and street signs.
The crews had difficulty in this area with the varying depths. Some areas required wading & pulling the boat, others travelling the ditch and some where we had to pull the boat through a yard or across railroad tracks into other water to continue the mission. Several animals in the area were rescued by ourselves, the National Guard and other crews. Some dogs were still tied up in the rising water. We would pull up to the front of a house and ask the person standing in the doorway if they were ready to leave. If they said no, you could bet that most would change their mind as they watched their last chance for a ride start to pull away. The photo to the right shows one of the docking points with the boat tied off to a mailbox.
We experienced some boat motor trouble and were lucky and extremely greatful for a local mechanics assistance in the repairs after missions that day. Later missions during the trip were placements in strategic locations awaiting the need for rescues. We were assigned to assist the Hugo Fire Department in the area around their community. The Chief and all the personnel with the Hugo FD provided some of the best hospitality you could hope for. It was the first showers we had in at least two days and they kept us full of food. We were reassigned later to assist rescues at a water treatment facility.
One of the lessons learned from the experience was that their is no perfect boat to perform flood rescues in this environment or area, and most likely as well as others. During the first missions of the trip, we would have preferred a smaller boat which would have been easier to deploy and drag through the yards. During other missions, the stability, working platform, and turnaround times of the Zodiac were exceptional and we would not have felt quite as safe in the larger water and dramatic change of direction in strong currents in a smaller boat. Far fewer people could have been rescued in the same amount of time with other style boats.
The question will always remain... If a department had to buy just one boat,.... what would it be? There can be no answer unless there is a close examination of your district, expected operations and your mutual aid resources. Close coordination between neighboring agencies may build a combination of 2-3 different boats that, between each agency, meet the needs of each agency. This multi-agency cache works well for district specific incidents but during area wide flooding, everyone is busy. Take a SRT course and love the self bailing, non-motorized, Z-drag, paddled and other techniques aspects of certain boats. Take an in depth dive course and become adapted to the room required for equipment, possible electronics needed and placement of a rescue basket.
For our last mission we were operating with a Task Force made up of personnel from the Greensboro FD and Forsyth County Rescue Squad. Resources consisted of our Zodiac, 2 Aluminum boats, 1 Personal Watercraft and 1 Hovercraft.
Workers at the water treatment facility had been attempting to keep the facility going but were loosing ground with the rising water. We launched the Zodiac from an area near a bridge where the water depth was over halfway up on powerpoles. The travel distance was well over a mile to reach the plant. We had limited time before dark and had several people to transport.
This area was much more suited for the Zodiac with it's payload and speed. The zodiac and the PWC worked as a pair with the PWC acting as a follow along, scout and safety backup in case of problems with the Zodiac or occupants overboard. The 2 aluminum boats and the Hovercraft teamed up and worked at their turnaround speeds. Multiple trips were made on the Tar River and across the Greenville Airport which was under water at the time.
During one of the trips, a structure was noticed through the trees and curiosity stuck if there may be people trapped. A Personal Waterdraft scouted it out and discovered 2 adults and their pets stranded in the rising water. The zodiac was moved in and, as seen in the graphic to the left, was easily floating above the homeowner's deck. A note of irony.... it was easy to step off the left side of the boat and a few feet down onto the wooden deck. Step off the right side a couple feet over and you are into a swimming pool... total depth there... appx 14 feet.
The citizens were transported back to the original launching point and quite thankful.
The water treatment plant presented another challenge to access the fence surrounding the compound. A gate that opened toward the river had to be opened. Aside from the NW current flowing with the Tar River, a NNE current flowed from within the compound which applied force on the gate. Although the current would assist opening, it also apply force against mechanisms required to open and was compounded by built up leaves and other debris. The Zodiac was throttled up to move in and forward against the current while FF Wilson leaned over the front to work the mechanisms open. The gate opened with force but presented special challenges when exting the fenced area. Only a few inches of clearance in the opening were available on each side of the boat as the throttle was increased to overcome the current and move into the compound.
On exiting the compund, the current increased speed when aproaching the gate even with the motor at idle. While inching through the gate, a wooded area presented a hazard of entrapment with the current and possibly capsizing the boat and creating more hazard to the ones we were already rescuing.
As the boat would make its way through the gate, an immediate port turn and increased throttle were required. During the Port turn, limbs from overhanging trees were overhead (and touching) and the boat was inches away from the main trunk of trees. Only a few seconds were required before full throttle was applied to move into the main current from the Tar River. Occupants of the boat were warned ahead of time of the tight squeeze through the gate, the overhanging limbs and the fast throttle response after exiting the gate.... "hang on".
The full throttle response raised the bow further into limbs and on each trip, the workers looked back with a bit of excitement.