JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville is playing a major role in the Hurricane Ian recovery efforts in Southwest Florida.
Crews from Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s Fire Station 4 downtown and across the city have been in the southern part of the state since the storm hit. In fact, more than 100 firefighters and officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are down there.
A number of them from Fire Station 4 make up a search-and-rescue team. But there is also a crew that goes ahead of them to clear the way so rescuers can get to victims, and it started in Jacksonville more than 20 years ago. It’s the Emergency Road Access Team, also called ERAT.
“What they do is they go in and they get these roads opened up ahead of emergency apparatus so they can get in there quicker and make the rescues that they need to do,” said JFRD Chief Keith Powers. “But it involves heavy equipment. It involves electricians, so they take care of the power lines, and it involves a JSO officer that takes care of our security. And then, of course, the firefighters that go in and do the cutting of the trees and running the heavy equipment to get them out of the road and get those roads blown open.”
And while this crew was working in Fort Myers last week, it did more than clear roads.
“Somebody came out and got him and said, ‘There’s a man screaming over in a house over here.’ What had actually happened is the bottom floor of that house got blew out by the water. He was in the second story. It threw it about 60 or 80 yards over into a swimming pool. The man was trapped for numerous hours up to his chest in water, pinned under all that debris.” Powers detailed. “And our firefighters went over there, one tunneled up in their founding, while two others were taking pieces of scrap wood and made a makeshift stretcher and tunneled in from the top and got down and got this guy out and got into medical care.”
That’s just one team, but others are there helping with search and recovery.
“That’s the kind of work that our men and women are doing,” Powers said. “And to say that it makes me proud is the understatement of the year.”
The idea of ERAT may now become a part of the national hurricane response in order to clear areas so rescue can take place.