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Missoula firefighters give critical aid, learn lessons on Hurricane Michael deployment

Posted at 5:44 PM, Nov 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-09 19:55:07-05

MISSOULA – When Missoula County rolls its “All-Hazards Incident Management Team”, it’s frequently to help other communities deal with wildfires. But this fall it was wind and water that created the need for Missoula emergency crews to come to a community’s aid.

When Hurricane Michael ripped through the Florida Panhandle and surrounding regions on the Gulf Coast last month, it created a path of destruction not seen in many decades. While some communities were completely obliterated, others were completely cut off.

That’s when the State of Florida engaged the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, asking Missoula to send the help of this experienced Type 3 team.

“But they had sustained winds of a hundred fifty miles an hour plus for 90-minutes, plus 2-to-3 feet of rain as well,” said Missoula Fire Department EMS Coordinator Ron Brunell. “Our role down there was to help the county support, Liberty County support. Which included everything from rescue and recovery to the recovery aspect including working with FEMA on the county’s behalf.”

Missoula’s nine-person team included 8 firefighters from Missoula City Fire and Ken Parks from Department of Emergency Services. While Bristol, Florida, where they were deployed wasn’t hit as hard as places like Mexico Beach, there was still a lot to help needed. A a big welcome from local emergency responders and residents.

“Yes, so when we got down there were were basically welcomed with open arms. I mean it was a very open community,” Brunell said. “They loved that we were down there and we didn’t run into a single person that was not nice and wanted to invite us over to their house to stay the night we didn’t have a place to stay. So, very, very nice people down there.”

Brunell says it’s hard to describe the total wreckage left by a hurricane. But the team’s experience in Florida adds to their knowledge to help back here with emergencies at home, such as last summer’s flooding.

“Hopefully we’ll never get a hurricane in Montana. And a lot of things have to go wrong for us to get a hurricane. But some of the stuff is applicable, like what we had with the flood this year,” Brunell said. “How to work with FEMA, how FEMA works, massive evacuation and massive triage, all that stuff working with those. Just the movement of all the resources coming in. Logistical supplies and then moving those out and tracking all those. Its highly applicable to what we do. Plus with the flood, because we had hundreds of volunteers that we’re trying to manage. And we had to manage how FEMA came in and tied in with the county and all that stuff. So yeah, it’s all applicable, everything we learned.”

Brunell says of about 3,500 buildings in Liberty County, Florida, nearly 3,000 were destroyed or had significant structural damage.