Tupelo firefighters among state’s first to respond

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Three Tupelo firefighters were a part of the first Mississippi Emergency Management task force to be sent out of state for emergency response when they went to Maryland to assist in Hurricane Sandy rescue efforts.
Capt. James Cunningham, Adam Holt and Chris Watkins left Tupelo on Monday afternoon and met up with swiftwater rescue crews from Columbus, Hattiesburg and DeSoto County before driving all night to Baltimore County, Md.
Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker said he is proud of having an emergency rescue team respond to an out-of-state disaster.
“This is something that we have been working for since before Katrina,” Walker said. “We’ve been trying to get labeled as a Level 1 response team and this verifies that all our training and the homeland security money we’ve been entrusted with has paid off.”
The Mississippi team was tasked with handling any swiftwater response in northern Maryland between the Chesapeake Bay and mountain terrain to the west.
Watkins said the people of Maryland treated them with great hospitality.
Holt said while the job was the same, the terrain and weather were much different from emergency response in Mississippi.
“We drove through a blizzard on the way to a hurricane,” Holt said. “It was definitely different – different terrain and completely different weather.”
The team was on standby for two days following the brunt of the storm and was not needed to make any rescues.
“Maryland had their ducks in a row for sure – calling in plenty of outside help before the incident,” Holt said. “There was talk of us being sent further north after Maryland but by the time we were released, we weren’t needed in New Jersey or New York.”
Cunningham said even though they didn’t have to perform any rescues, responding out of state is monumental for MEMA and the Tupelo Fire Department.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Cunningham said. “It puts us on the FEMA list for any possible future deployments. The chances of us getting deployed have probably gone up drastically. We have quite a few guys that are cross-trained in different jobs in the task force and any time we have an opportunity to use those skills, we’re excited to, even if it’s in another state.”
jb.clark@journalinc.com