Over 100 first responders were recognized in Brooklyn on Wednesday for their response efforts in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence.
Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) New York Task Force 1 (NY-TF1) rescued 128 people and 61 animals while providing aid to the area for nearly two weeks. The teams were sponsored by the city Office of Emergency Management and made up of specifically trained personnel from the FDNY, NYPD and EMS.
The first team was deployed on Sept. 11 with 101 members; two days later, 18 additional members were sent down to help.
The task force, which specializes in urban search and rescue, disaster recovery, and emergency triage and medicine, conducted water rescue and welfare checks, among other missions. They were equipped with various tools, including water rescue boats, motors and other items to support rescues from collapsed structures and confined spaces.
FEMA Region 2 Regional Administrator Thomas Von Esson commended the members of NY-TF1 for their courageous efforts. “We are thankful for their safe return and proud of their commitment to helping the people of North Carolina during this challenging time.”
During the ceremony, a few of the task force members spoke about their experiences and rescues.
Det. Dennis O’Sullivan, with the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, described how he and other rescuers saved a group of men who had been clinging to a tree for six hours.
“The gentlemen tried to evacuate on their own, and went through an overflowing river,” said O’Sullivan. “By the time we got to them on the boat rescue, hypothermia was setting in. We put floatation devices on them and took them away to safety.”
O’Sullivan explained that a lot of people stayed in their houses and one of his duties was to find the safest way to get them out, either rescuing them or helping them into their own boats.
“A lot of the people that had not left and relocated later on realized their decision of staying was a bad idea,” O’Sullivan added.
Det. Mike Cacac, also assigned to the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, described an incident that involved a 60-year-old man who evacuated to a neighbor’s house, but left his $15,000 cancer medication inside his home.
“We made the split decision to go inside his home to retrieve the medicine," Cacac said. "By this time, there was about 6 feet of water inside his home. When we gained access into the back room, the medicine was floating on the table and was retrievable."
City officials on Wednesday praised the first responders who had left their families to put themselves in harms way.
“New York City has many of the finest, highly-trained first responders anywhere in the world, and we will not hesitate to respond whenever, and wherever, our skills are needed,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. “New Yorkers know it is always our duty to help others in dire need, regardless of circumstances or locale.”
FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro expressed how proud he is of the task force.
“Whenever called to help — whether in the five boroughs or thousands of miles beyond our city’s limits — FDNY members will always be there with the best training possible, to rescue those in harm’s way,” Nigro said.