HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Eight Harrisburg firefighters are back in the city after spending two weeks helping with search-and-rescue efforts in Florida following Hurricane Ian.
These firefighters are part of PA Task Force One, one of several federal teams called on by FEMA to help in emergency situations. For one firefighter, this was his first deployment with the task force.
An alert on his phone two weeks ago sent Harrisburg firefighter Captain Jeremy Saul on that deployment.
“I actually had to listen to the voicemail twice,” he said. “Hey you’re being activated as part of PA Task Force One, you need to get down and report to Philly as soon as possible.”
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Just hours later, Saul was on his way to help relief efforts after Hurricane Ian.
“For this I had no idea exactly where I was going until we got there,” he said.
The task force stayed in South Carolina for a few days before moving on.
“Next thing you know, they’re saying, ‘No, we’re leaving here and now we’re going to Lee County, we’re going to Florida,” Saul said.
Saul is one of eight Harrisburg firefighters who deployed with the task force.
“Our primary mission was secondary search and rescue,” he said.
They spent most of their time in Fort Myers Beach, where Saul said the devastation is shocking.
“It’s just completely gone to say the least. Sand everywhere, homes just completely crushed, demolished,” he said.
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Captain Aldo Morelli, another Harrisburg firefighter said, “I was in a house where the water line was over my head.”
Saul said the task force’s job is looking for both human remains and survivors. They used GPS and camera technology as well as dogs to search .
“I was on the team that we actually met somebody that actually rode out the storm,” Saul said. “I was never expecting to see somebody come up to the door and be like, ‘Yeah, I was here and I stayed here the whole entire time.'”
Saul said people in Florida were not shy about their support for the task force.
“There [were] people along the side of the roads, holding up the US flag and cheering and saying how thankful they are,” he said. “There was a guy down there with a cowboy hat waving it around.”
To him and his fellow firefighters, being there to help is a privilege.
“I want to go and help, so if something bad happens it’s kind of my nature that I want to go and help people,” Saul said.
“Sometimes that’s all people need is a hug. You know, bottle of water and a hug and say hey we’re here for you whatever you need,” Morelli said.
Most of the firefighters returned to Philadelphia between October 12 and October 14 and dispersed from there across the state. Members of the task force get a 48-hour resting period before getting back to work.