St. Bernard Firefighters brave the storm in Braithwaite rescueSep 7th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: Top Story
Deputy Chief Glenn Ellis II, a 34-year veteran of the St. Bernard Fire Department and District Chief Joseph Dullary Jr. are members of the Swift Water and Flood Water Recovery Team, a special unit of SBFD that is trained to rescue and recover in dangerous storm water conditions. Seven SWFWR team members were deployed on August 29 in Braithwaite to assist with rescue efforts. 13 firefighters were sent out on August 30 to Holden, LA.
There are few things more torturous for a firefighter than sitting back and watching a disaster unfold without being able to help. And on August 29, St. Bernard Fire Department’s Swift Water and Flood Water Rescue Team felt that torture as they waited on the line for the go-ahead from the Chief to help their Plaquemines Parish neighbors in Braithwaite.
SWFWR Team leader, Deputy Chief Glenn Ellis III, a 34 year veteran of SBFD, got the call to head over to Braithwaite around 9 a.m. on August 29. But long before that, his team of seven specially trained firefighters—Engineers Micheal Wolfe, Glenn Ellis IV, Rebecca Stechmann, Nicholas Elsensohn, Captain Micheal Moolekaup, and Devin Murphy— were ready to go.
“I was sitting at home with my generator on, watching it happen on T.V. and was chomping at the bit to get there and help,” said District Chief Joseph Dullary Jr. “In my 23 years in service I’ve never been at home during a disaster; I kept calling on the radio and seeing if they needed anyone, and finally we got the call.”
By noon on Wednesday Deputy Chief Ellis got the boats out to Caernarvon, and winds were clocking in at 80 mph. Braithwaite’s 8.5 ft parish-owned levees had been over topped several hours earlier by a huge wall of storm surge.
The waters were 12 feet and rising.
The two-story building where Plaquemines Parish Firefighters were stationed, a few miles down the road from Braithwaite, was submerged in a matter of hours. The dangerous debris-laden flood waters were swallowing trailers, cars, boats, and livestock, and swamping both one and two-story homes.
Those residents who decided to stay behind and brave Hurricane Isaac had one place to go: their attics.
“We did all this during Katrina without equipment, but this time, we had the tools and equipment necessary to feel confident we could get the job done, especially because we were navigating an unfamiliar area,” Deputy Chief Ellis explained. “I’ve been asking for this kinds of equipment since the ’80s and finally in April, we got it.”
The new tools for the team— funded by a Homeland Security grant— included a special water proof GPS system, that would prove to be crucial in finding addresses of the people left behind.
“Family members were getting texts from relatives who stayed behind that they were trapped in their attics, and then those relatives would call in with the address and request that they be rescued,” said Ellis. “So what we did was go around house by house and knock on the attic to see if anyone was inside.”
Around 4 p.m. the SWFWR team retreated back the station, only to be called out again the next day to be stationed in Holden, Louisiana. The team ended spending around 30 hours on call, but Ellis says it is important for fire departments around the state to support each other.
“This was the first time we were able to help out with a water rescue in another parish, and unfortunately, it was out neighbors,” said Ellis. “Helping out is just something you do, we got so much help from all over during Katrina, and this time we got to give back.”