By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Five of Tupelo’s firemen spent a good chunk of last week responding to swift water-rescue situations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Training Officer Romeco Traylor, Sgt. Chad Blankenship, Firefighter Adam Holt, Firefighter Chris Watkins and Capt. Brad Robinson left Tupelo on Tuesday to set up in the Forrest County staging area and await Hurricane Isaac.
Wednesday, from noon until that night, the firefighters traveled around Pearlington with Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries agents.
The five men are certified in swift water rescue and donned wetsuits and life preservers.
Robinson said the crew made six rescues the first day in Pearlington before being moved to Picayune.
“We’re not from that area so when we got a call we would find the location and then, since the road is underwater, use GPS to get to it,” Robinson said. “You get out, get to the people and help them get their belongings and get to a safe area.”
The first night, the rescue crew had to cross the Pearl River in hurricane winds to get to a flood victim.
“We had to come in from the Louisiana side,” Traylor said. “The rain was beating down so you couldn’t look straight on and the waves were pretty high. They were white-capping.”
The flooding meant they could get to most places by boat but sometimes they would have to carry the boats through ankle-deep water after bottoming out.
“They said this was the worst flooding they’ve ever had,” Holt said. “There were areas flooded they said had never been flooded. They said it wasn’t that deep during Katrina, it came in fast and hard and left but this one just sat there and spun. It just kept raining.”
Robinson said the water would rise a foot sometimes during the course of a rescue.
The swift water rescue crews were used to access areas that had been flooded and had swift, riverlike currents.
“When you add swift water to anything it’s tough,” Blankenship said. “We got barbed wire stuck in our motor, the current just carried it in. People don’t realize how powerful the currents are.”
The five Tupelo firefighters recorded 27 rescues in three days.