CHARLESTON, WV (WCHS/WVAH) — As Floridians brace for Hurricane Irma, first responders from West Virginia traveled through the night and are on the ground ready to help.
West Virginia paramedics and EMTs are in Tallahassee, Florida ready to help when Hurricane Irma hits, and they aren’t alone.
“We are in what’s the staging mode and so around us you’ll see there are 110 ambulances here,” James “Buzz” Mason said.
Ambulances and EMS workers from across the country are there too.
“We’ve seen Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, and multiple units from Texas. We’ve met many people who haven’t been home since August 24 when they started Hurricane Harvey work,” Mason, who is part of a task force command team and the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, said.
The 23-member team includes 7 Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority ambulances, another from Logan County EMS and two from Jan-Care in Beckley.
Mason has a lot of experience. He was a Navy helicopter pilot and has worked in natural disasters before.
“This is the first time in about 15 years that I’ve been on the ground of a disaster. But the magnitude of this 180-185 mph is something we really can’t fathom this is something that’s going to take brick buildings apart,” Mason said.
They’ve been preparing and made sure they have everything they need so they can respond during the category 4 hurricane.
“It may be to evacuate a building, it may be just be to go and run 911 calls for an area that’s been devastated,” Mason said.
This effort was started by FEMA through a contract with American Medical Response and this crew is calling themselves the Mountaineer Strike Team.
“We really get to give back for the first time, you realize as a veteran one of your biggest things is you want to do something that matters and what we’re doing here matters and the fact that you’re getting to help fellow Americans is a huge deal,” Mason said.
Mason said they could be there 2 to 4 weeks. He hopes to bring everyone back home safely and said he’s thinking of his wife and daughters through it all.
“Tell everyone in Charleston I said hello and Hanna Grace and Emma, thanks a lot for letting dad come and be safe,” Mason said.
The 23 West Virginia first responders have only been in Florida for less than 24 hours and have already received some much-needed assistance from a generous donor.
Firehouse Subs and goodie bags full of things they’ll need to stay clean were donated by a company in Florida called FBMC benefits management. They’re contracted with West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency.
They heard about the team helping out and they wanted to say ‘thank you.’
Barboursville Coastguard crews are also in south Florida preparing for the worst.
They just had a crew of guardsmen come back from Texas. They saved more than 529 lives during their search and rescue missions there and had just a few days to load up again to head to Florida to continue those rescue efforts.
They’re heading down with three rescue boats and said they will stay as long as they are needed and have back up crews waiting to make the trip– after the storm hits the coast.