Members of the Fort Smith Professional Firefighters recently reached out to assist their brethren in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Fort Smith Professional Firefighters President Darrell Clark said the organization sent a five man team, which included himself, to help firefighters who were affected by the hurricane. They left Fort Smith on Sept. 4 and came back Sept. 9. They provided assistance in the area between Lake Charles, La., and Beaumont, TX.
"The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) had a command post in Vinton, La., and around the Beaumont area for two different districts in the union, and we are in the 14th district," Clark said. "... Louisiana's part of it, so we went and answered to the Louisiana command post, but we also helped with Texas because Louisiana, we actually finished it up, and they closed down the command post on Thursday (Sept. 7)."
Clark said the Fort Smith Professional Firefighters did not want to leave early due to the time and funds that were spent driving to the area.
The motivation for this initiative was to assist IAFF firefighters and their families whose homes had been damaged by Hurricane Harvey. The team accomplished this by removing furniture from the homes in an attempt to salvage what they could. They also removed flooring, as well as sheetrock at various heights, the lowest being 24 inches.
"That's half a sheet of sheetrock, so it makes it easy ... when they rebuild, to seam it, splitting sheets, and then they can use two pieces of each sheet," Clark said. "There was a couple of those where we just cut it to 24 inches, and then we would remove all the nails, screws, clean up and leave it so they could start bringing in fans if they had power."
Clark said while some of these families did not have power, they had already secured generators.
Heath Orabanec, another firefighter who was a part of this team, described the area it helped as being heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey. He said the amount of water that had been in the homes it worked in ranged from three to four inches to five feet in some of them.
"Basically, it takes your house and pretty much turns your sheetrock, your carpet, your belongings, all to just worthless," Orabanec said. "The quality of water that came through there, who knows what ... kind of chemicals or different stuff might have been in that water from the flooded businesses and industries, not to mention we know that there were sewer plants that had problems and stuff. You can imagine just about everything you could possibly imagine and worse being in the water and then somebody putting it in your house."
The Fort Smith Professional Firefighters helped a total of seven families in Texas. Clark said the team mainly served in Orange and Bridge City. Six of the families it helped were those of IAFF firefighters. The seventh was of a different variety, whom the group decided to help on its last day after finishing its last house.
"Somebody flagged us down when we were turning around in a cul-de-sac and told us that there was a preacher off in the community helping feed the community at the church and stuff, and feed workers that had come down," Clark said. "And so he was gone from his home and his wife and autistic son were there, working on the home slowly by themselves. So we stopped in there, and in a couple of hours, we gutted everything for them real fast."
Clark said helping this seventh family was a unanimous decision.
The team also worked with firefighters from Baton Rouge and Little Rock during this initiative, Clark said.