The town of Northport in Sarasota County, Florida has about the same population as Missoula. When Missoula’s first responders arrived in his late September, they found nearly the entire town submerged.
On September 28, the same day Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, the Western Montana All Hazard Incident Management Team began relief operations.
Ten members of a multi-agency team drove through deep water to reach Northport. There, in some areas the flood he reached a depth of eight feet. The hurricane destroyed bridges and cut power to the entire area, leaving him late with more than 500 calls to the Northport Fire Department.
First responders from nearly 3,000 miles away immediately began working to support responders in Florida. Under our Incident Command System, Montana Group stands ready to respond to all types of hazards, from local wildfires to hurricanes, earthquakes and avalanches.
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Ken Parks, the team’s Incident Commander, said:
Public relations officer Nick Holloway said he provided a sort of “special source” to help the Western Montana team coordinate relief efforts in Florida. We used our well-oiled organizational skills to solve the logistics of the relief effort, including setting up, directing fire and ambulances, and coordinating debris cleanup.
Along the way, we were plagued by traffic problems, massive wind damage, and the hot and humid Florida weather.
“Just grin and bear it,” said Holloway.
The Western Montana crew was deployed to Northport at Florida’s request, but the crew was especially willing to help as Florida’s first responders came to Montana during the Yellowstone Floods in June. He said he gave it to me.
“It’s so nice to be able to give back to someone who has helped you in the past,” Parks said.
People in Missouri enjoyed the opportunity to connect with first responders in Florida while providing assistance after Hurricane Ian.
“We’ve built a lot of great relationships and met a lot of great people,” Missoula Deputy Fire Chief Brad Davis said. “We are very honored to be able to help them.”
Davis and nine other members of his crew coordinated relief efforts with local agencies, the National Guard, and the “Cajun Navy” volunteer rescue team. The Missoula crew was impressed with the cooperation and dedication they saw from their response partners.
“They were doing a great job,” Parks said.
The West Montana team not only helped the people of Florida, but also learned valuable skills and lessons that they brought back to Missoula.
“We go out there and help them, but we also bring our enhanced skills back to Missoula County in case we need them,” Holloway noted. “So it’s kind of a win-win.”
Holloway, Parks, and Davis all agreed that they felt a sense of accomplishment during their 18-day mission in Florida. He said their role is focused on getting local responders over the first response hump and into the recovery phase of the disaster.
“I’m incredibly proud,” said Holloway.