Teams of emergency responders across the nation headed to the east coast in late October to help victims who were left without food, water, shelter or electricity after the storms of Hurricane Sandy.
Among the volunteers, were three O’Fallon Firefighters who serve on the Urban Search and Rescue Missouri Task Force 1 Team.
The task force is one of 28 federal search and rescue teams across the nation, compiled of volunteers including doctors, paramedics, K-9 officers and fire fighters. All are trained in urban search and rescue and structural collapse.
The Boone County Fire Protection District, just outside of Columbia, MO, is the sponsoring agency for the 210 person team of Missouri Task Force 1.
Members respond to man-made and national disasters nationwide when local emergency response has exhausted their resources.
Since joining the task force, O’Fallon Deputy Chief Randy Sanders has aided victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin tornadoes.
On Oct. 29, Sanders, O’Fallon Firefighters Captain Rick Miller and Engineer Mike Knipping were deployed with Missouri Task Force 1 at 9 p.m. for a 10-day mission.
They headed to Columbia to load up the 100,000 pounds of equipment including, water, food, clothes, restrooms and transportation.
Sanders said they set out with a heavy team of 80 personnel on a convoy of several tractor-trailers, buses and staff vehicles.
“We head into the affected areas and get our orders as we’re on the road,” Sanders said.
After a 24-hour drive to New York, the convoy arrived at McGuire Air Force Base where they received humanitarian mission orders.
The rescue team was sent to areas like Long Beach, where water had flooded residents’ homes and cars. Sanders said many were without water and electricity.
“We walked into some of those areas that were affected by the storm and met with those people and gave them information on where they could get their prescriptions filled, if they needed to be transported to a doctor, where they could get food and clothing,” he said. “Anyplace we could point them in the right direction.”
Sanders said the storm victims were friendly and welcomed the volunteers.
“It was kind of sad, we met an elderly gentleman whose home was affected by the storm, and we carried a case of water to his house for him and he cried,” Sanders said. “No matter how tough of a search and rescue person you might be, that brings you to your knees.”
Others came out and gave the volunteers a hug, or offered a muffin or Halloween candy.
“Whatever they had, they offered to you and that’s very humbling, to know that these people haven’t had any fresh food and water for days and we’re pointing them in the right direction and they’re offering whatever they have,” Sanders added.
From the Air Force Base, the team was shipped to New Jersey, where they continued their mission from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. The search and rescue team ate MRE’s, showered when they could and spent their nights in sleeping bags at a local gymnasium.
“Nobody complains, you go in and have a job and do it and try to keep a good attitude,” Sanders said. “I was very proud of the team and certainly the other two members with my department.”
During the 10-day mission on the northeastern coast, the team also traveled through Ocean View, Newport, Lawrence, the Bronx and Queens.
“Anyplace they needed us, we step up to the plate and say we’re ready,” Sanders said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be on multiple hurricanes and deployments with the federal team.”
Sanders added he feels fortunate that the O’Fallon Fire Protection District supports the operations with Boone County.
Miller and Knipping said they were also grateful for the opportunity to serve on their first federal mission.
“It’s what we do, it’s our life. We like rescue work and being firefighters. This is more in depth, with a lot more training involved, not just fighting fire,” Miller said. “I believe we touched a lot of people and helped a lot of people there.”
The O’Fallon Firefighters, who saw first-hand the devastation of the storms, said although it's been a little over a month, there are still people who need help.