In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in September of this year, there was a massive interagency response with several in-state and out-of-state organizations assisting recovery efforts. The response for Hurricane Ian resulted in one of the largest urban search and rescue operations ever conducted in the United States. There were more than 1,300 workers in the field in the immediate aftermath collaborating with local authorities.
“Hurricane Ian brought massive levels of destruction to the state of Florida, leaving many residents to mourn devastating losses while struggling to access food, clean water and shelter,” said Erin Albury, Florida State Forester. “Major disasters like this require a well-coordinated response of many individuals to support immediate and long-term recovery needs.”
Among the teams in the field, there were also three trained drone teams aiding the search efforts, as well as multiple dog teams working in coordination with the urban search and rescue/recovery teams. At the forefront of this operation were both structural and wildland firefighters. Several state and federal forestry agency personnel were called to help manage and coordinate incident response operations. Aiding in logistics, safety planning, mental health support and more, firefighters took on various roles and provided the expertise needed to respond to the disaster.
In times of large-scale disasters, it is often necessary to call in outside assistance to support local emergency response efforts and to activate an Incident Management Team (IMT). Many of these IMTs include wildland firefighters and forestry agency personnel who have extensive experience following the Incident Command System. While some may think firefighters only put out fires, the scope and breadth of wildland fire services go far beyond fire suppression and have a direct hand in nearly all types of emergency response.
“Our wildland firefighters do so much more than fight wildfires,” said Ludie Bond, a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist and Public Information Officer for the Florida Forest Service. “They are trained and experienced professionals, and each possesses the qualifications to be extremely flexible and adaptable to whatever the circumstances are. When we are asked to respond, we respond.”
Additionally, these teams are responsible for logistical coordination of supplies and resources. When relief for community residents is necessary, forestry personnel will stage water, ice, meals, tarps, generators and other items for delivery and distribution to residents in need. Often when you see supplies being distributed to communities in need, firefighters are those handing off life’s basic necessities in the aftermath of a storm.
“I’m proud of the work our wildland firefighters and forestry personnel do to support all hazard response efforts. We want to thank our partners, both at home and abroad, for being there for our state in times of need. Although some losses will no doubt leave a lasting impression, it brings comfort knowing we can count on each other when the going gets tough,” says Albury.