Trending Topics

Hundreds of firefighters return to Fla. after Harvey to prepare for Hurricane Irma

Some firefighters and paramedics face the task of jumping from one disaster to preparing for potentially another as their home state readies for a possible hit

By Aric Chokey and Linda Trischitta
Sun Sentinel

KEY WEST, Fla. — Hundreds of Florida’s emergency responders are returning home to prepare for Hurricane Irma just days after they headed to Texas to help with the Hurricane Harvey relief.

Some firefighters and paramedics face the task of jumping from one disaster to preparing for potentially another as their home state readies for a possible hit.

“That’s what we’re trained to do,” said Andy Popick, a Davie fire rescue battalion chief who flew to Dallas to aid in relief efforts. “You adapt and overcome obstacles.”

Popick returned home Monday from a trip with a federal Disaster Medical Response Team to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Popick’s team helped doctors treat injured evacuees in Dallas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deploys the teams to give medical care during disasters and support medical staff.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also dispatched four search-and-rescue teams from Florida to Texas. The 110 firefighters started to head back home Tuesday, according to the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association, which coordinates the teams.

They “finished their work in Texas and are now focused on Florida for the expected Hurricane Irma response,” the fire chiefs’ association president Otto Drozd III said in a press release.

In two deployments during the last week of August, Gov. Rick Scott ordered about 130 officers and staffers from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to respond to flooded residents in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The FWC responders who rescued about 500 Texans from submerged roads and properties began arriving back in Florida on Friday. Some officers were still traveling home Tuesday.

Their work after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas may be a rehearsal for what FWC officers will be asked to do in Florida this weekend as Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm on Tuesday afternoon, approached.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center had winds of up to 218 mph, making Hurricane Irma one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record. The Category 5 hurricane also prompted Gov. Rick Scott to activate the National Guard Tuesday.

Mary Hudak, FEMA spokeswoman for the southeast region, said the department started mobilizing its emergency response teams in Florida on Tuesday.

“We’re beginning to reposition people and resources,” Hudak said. “We are prepared and are working with the state of Florida.”

Colonel Curtis Brown, FWC’s director of its division of law enforcement, said it wants the returning officers to rest before Hurricane Irma.

“We’re trying to get our officers back and get them a little bit of rest and get ready for Irma, just in case Irma makes landfall on Florida turf,” Brown said in an email. “With any hurricane, we’re always prepared to respond and help and deploy. We have up to 200 people ready to deploy now.”

Copyright 2017 Sun Sentinel