Urban Search and Rescue teams head to Florida, boats and heavy water gear in tow

Louisiana first responders leave to help Florida with Hurricane Dorian

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As Hurricane Dorian prepares to nudge the Florida coastline, first responders across the state are heading in the storm’s direction. Among those responders are groups from Baton Rouge.

When you're a first responder, you answer when there's a call for help.

“We’re basically there to do, whatever they need us to do,” said Archie Ducharme, Program Coordinator for the Lafayette Regional Response Team 4.

People in Florida are prepping for a major wind and water event as Hurricane Dorian creeps in. At the request of Florida’s governor, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams made up of firefighters and paramedics from across the state are stationing themselves in the state as back up.

“It’s a tremendous commitment when you take these people away for what may be as short as 10 days or as long as two weeks,” said Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning.

Browning says the teams are prepared for whatever the storm brings, including high water.

“We’ve had some tremendous flooding in Louisiana, not related to a hurricane. Our teams have had to become diverse in being able to rapidly respond,” Browning said. “All these types of exercises that we do and real-world theaters that we go into make us better to save lives.”

Since firsthand experience has prepared these crews, Browning says they know what to do if bad weather creates a search and rescue mission while they’re further south.

“A lot of people are trapped in homes and it’s never known,” Browning said. “We have to go door-to-door, building by building to make sure everyone has been taken out and rendered safe.”

Mike Mackey, Battalion Chief with the Shreveport Fire Department, says the complex missions are what his people are trained for.

Mackey is part of the K-9 USAR team out of Shreveport. He says every time a USAR team get deployed, a K-9 comes along for the ride, sticking their noses where humans can’t.

“They’re able to clear areas that are hard to access, that people can’t get to,” Mackey said. “Sometimes we’ll go in and search houses, buildings, things like that, that are hard to get.”

Mackey says it takes about two years to train the dogs and make them mission ready.

“This is what they do. They know when we open [the back of the vehicle while on a mission], it’s time to go to work,” said Mackey.

Browning says they pulled from their partners around the state. About 125 people will be staged right outside of Jacksonville. When the storm passes Florida, leaders will assess the damage. At that point, first responders will go to work.

He says Florida leaders will then give crews grids to search areas.

“These will typically be a 3-mile-by-3-mile area. We’ll be expected to search that grid and the beginning of each morning,” said Browning.

Browning says if Hurricane Dorian does progress, there are a chance teams could be sent to the Carolina’s.

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