I missed the memo about sharing memories from Hurricane Isabel, which came in on the North Carolina coast on September 18, 2003. Our shift came on the morning of the 18th at 8 a.m. Let me shift gears for a moment, and share a memory from Hurricane Fran that came in on the North Carolina coast on September 5, 1996. Again, our shift came on duty the morning of the 5th at 8 a.m. as well. I had been the lieutenant on C-shift for a few months prior to this storm hitting. My memory is dim about Fran, but I do remember that we got little or no sleep, and we ran 30 calls for service in a 24-hour period on Engine 1 in Chester.
So now, let’s move the calendar forward seven years. By this time, Chesterfield Fire & EMS has come a long way in preparing for these storms. Incident Action Plans (IAP) have been the order of business for the past three to five days. We, as an organization, were ready for this storm to arrive, though we did not know what the day would look like. I remember getting a visit at the beginning of our shift from the Fire Chief and the County Administrator, who simply wanted to wish us the best in the midst of this approaching storm. I also remember having additional personnel assigned to me at Station 1 that day, as well as volunteer personnel. I split my crew, and placed a driver on the brush truck, since it would be able to get to some places that the engine would not be able to access after the storm hit.
It was late morning when we began to deal with downed power lines, and trees blocking major roadways. It would be another 30-call day by the time that it ended. Though I cannot remember every call that we ran, I do remember one in particular. We were dispatched to either Bradley Bridge Road or Woodpecker Road with Truck 14 and the Dive Team for a police car that had been overtaken by high water. All operations had been stopped due to the dangerous conditions except for calls like this one. We tried to respond down Bradley Bridge Rd., off of Branders Bridge Rd, but were blocked by a huge tree. We turned around and proceeded to Lewis Rd., where we again encountered a large tree, but this time it was tangled up in power lines. Shortly after stopping, a tree with more power lines would fall across Truck 14. For the next two or so hours, we were stuck on a very dark Lewis Rd., with trees breaking and falling everywhere. FYI, units came from the south to assist the police officer, who ended up being fine. As we all stood at the back of Engine 1, awaiting a rescue team to cut us out, I was asked by everyone standing there if I would pray, and pray I did. Another neat part of this ordeal was that the person that would lead the rescue team was now, Captain Steve Hall, my brother-in-law.
We did not see the bed that night, and our shift did not end until about 10 a.m. the next morning.
Interestingly enough, the calls that I remember the most were the calls for service in the days that followed Isabel. Medical calls that were prompted by no electricity, a shortage of oxygen for some, and trauma related to trees. Some of the most trying calls came with handlights lighting a room. There were many tests of our skills during this time. I am amazed that I still remember some of these events, but a huge event in my son’s life occurred while I was held over on two major medical calls. My 15-year-old son would announce at Kingsland Baptist Church, his call to the ministry. I am pleased to report that ten years later, he is an ordained pastor, serving as the Minister of Worship, Media & Youth at Bermuda Baptist Church.