Colorado Springs firefighters return from helping Harvey, Irma victims

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — They usually use water to put out fires, but for the last month, firefighters from the Colorado Springs Fire Department were doing everything they could to save people from it.

The firefighters just returned from Texas and Florida, where they were helping people displaced by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They spent 27 days traveling through nine different states to help the victims.

The hurricanes caused two different kinds of devastation, but the firefighters had one common goal.

“We come with paramedics, emergency room doctors, structural specialists, hazardous materials teams, so we can come in and mitigate a whole bunch of emergencies when local resources are overwhelmed,” CSFD Lt. Aaron McConnellogue said.

They were part of FEMA’s Search and Rescue Task Force One: 80 crew members who shipped out to Texas within 24 hours of Harvey hitting land. They were quickly placed on a C-130 plane to Beaumont, where they helped establish a shelter.

“Trying to be a warm smile and a comfort to those individuals who came in, they just lost everything they own, and people come in with a trash bag in one hand and a pet in the other, and they’re devastated,” McConnellogue said.

The days started at 5 a.m. and lasted until after midnight. CSFD’s particular group slept in fields, parking lots, and even the cargo plane–hot and muggy conditions.

They experienced the same conditions when they shipped off to Florida a week and a half later.

“Adding that water element to it certainly adds a big degree of difficulty,” Driving Engineer Curt Crumb said. “Florida was different. We may not have vehicle access, but generally we had good foot access, so just two entirely different events.”

The team covered most of the Florida Keys, knocking on every door they saw to make sure everyone was accounted for. That’s when it really hit home for Erik Riker of the Rescue Squad.

“I have a lot of family in Florida, so being able to go down, and during one of our searches I was actually able to pass my grandfather’s house in the Keys, sense the damage there, so that was very memorable and humbling at the same time,” Riker said.

Colorado Task Force One may be back home now, but hurricane season isn’t over, and the task force may be called out again. They’re taking inventory and repacking their gear just in case.

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