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Palisades Fire Rescue heads to flood-ravaged Kentucky

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Before dawn, Aug. 5, firefighters of the newly consolidated Palisades Regional Fire Rescue Service pulled away from the Ottsville station headed for flood-ravaged Knott County in Appalachia.

Driving three trucks hauling trailers stacked high with rescue goods were Bill Shick, Jim Keogh and Keith Milligan. Their mission was to deliver equipment to the crews of firehouses that had either been washed away or damaged when the late July storm stalled and flood waters drowned parts of eastern Kentucky.

It would take more than 10 hours to reach their destination, Knotts County, still partially underwater from torrential rains a week earlier with more rain coming. Shick and Milligan would drive their own pickups while Keogh, who is deputy chief, used his official vehicle.

The flatbed trailers, two 24-footers and one 30-footer, were loaded with firefighting gear, equipment such as hoses and supplies for fellow firefighters whose stations were destroyed in the catastrophic flood waters that took more than 37 lives and decimated whole towns. An estimated 1,300 people had been rescued and many were still listed as missing.

Shick, chief of the Ottsville fire station, who coordinated the mission, explained, “This all started from a simple Facebook post and it all moved along quickly. We discovered the fire stations down there were washed away – and they didn’t have a lot to start with.”

Advantageous to the mission was the fact that Palisades Regional has just completed its consolidation process, which gathered Ottsville, Riegelsville and Springtown fire companies under one umbrella, combining their finances, equipment and services, Shick said. In this case, Ottsville was the lead agent with each of its stations offering whatever they could in the way of spare or older equipment and supplies to be delivered to the Kentucky volunteers.

The supply chain for donated items was not limited to Palisades Regional, Shick said. He had a long list of volunteer companies that had donated gear and supplies no longer in use here but critical for the Appalachian fire stations. Fire companies contributing included other Bucks companies and some in Montgomery County, other areas of Pennsylvania and Hunterdon County, N.J.

Although the main reason for the trip was to deliver equipment to the fire companies, Shick said some local businesses had dropped off supplemental necessities, large quantities of cat food and dog food, for example, and 15 cases of diapers, which would be packed with the fire equipment. The volunteers were planning to drop those off at a general collection center for flood victims in Hindman, the county seat.

As Shick oversaw preparation the evening before the trip at the Ottsville firehouse, more than 30 volunteers gathered and sorted the donated items. The firehouse floor was covered with costly air packs, other gear and equipment, with volunteers working quietly in teams, wrapping equipment in protective plastic and securing it on pallets before loading the trailers.

“We may have too much to take this trip,” Shick said. “Neighboring Perry County in Kentucky also lost fire stations. We don’t know what they need, so when we get down there, we’ll see what they need and maybe take a second trip,” he said.

This mission could not have been conducted so easily if l the local companies had not consolidated, Shick noted.

“We’ve got 100 volunteers, and they’re not just names on a list. They’re truly active. We’ve increased the level of service we’re able to provide,” he said.

Back from Kentucky, terrific flood damage

Bill Shick, Jim Keogh and Keith Milligan, the three members of Palisades Regional Fire and Rescue who drove to Knott County, carried fire helmets, boots, air packs, hoses, and other rescue gear to flood-ravaged Eastern Kentucky. Their round trip lasted 36 hours and they covered 1,300 miles.

But they brought back a lifetime of memories of the resilience, courage and kindness of the flood victims. “The people had no warning. It happened at night when they were asleep.” Shick said.

They found firehouses completely washed away, others heavily damaged. Some firefighters couldn’t meet with them because they were attending funerals for loved ones lost to the flood waters; one man whose home was gone but was sweeping up, helping at his firehouse; a volunteer picking through supplies, passing equipment to another firefighter he knew needed it more.

Shick said the flood damage was terrific. He said, “Think Red Bridge Road,” comparing the Kentucky flood damage to what had happened in Durham last September when Hurricane Ida’s rains turned Cooks Creek into a raging torrent changing the course of the creek that then tore through creek side properties.

“Think Red Bridge Road,” he repeated, “but then consider that kind of damage running 30 miles or so, the water washing away everything in its path, some houses wiped from their foundations, some on the other side of the road untouched.”

Palisades, Ottsville, Riegelsville, Springtown

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