Pictured above, local volunteers prepare to leave for Baldwin County to assist with Hurricance Sally relief on Monday, September 28.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Gadsden’s first responders headed to the Gulf Coast on Monday, September 28. Following the devastation of Hurricane Sally weeks prior, 16 volunteers packed their bags to aid and assist those affected by the storm.
A contingent of the Gadsden Fire Department, public works and fleet maintenance employees formed the volunteer group, which traveled to the emergency operations center in Robertsdale, Alabama. After arriving in Baldwin County, the first responders received assignments directing them to certain locations and designating specific responsibilities for storm relief. The group also brought equipment along with the trip, which marks Gadsden’s third hurricane relief response mission.
“This gives us the ability to pay it forward,” said Gadsden Fire Chief Stephen Carroll. “[In Gadsden] we’re not the largest place in the state of Alabama. We’re still subject to have help here. So, we want to make sure that we help our neighbors. The city of Gadsden has always been good to do that. Mayor Guyton and the city council sponsored us, and we’ve had some private sponsors. [Guyton] is always giving us approval in order to come down and help those that are in need, and they’re in a lot more need than we are [right now]. We’re down there to relieve any stress and as much strain as we can on those people down there [in South Alabama].”
The 16 volunteers joined professionals from the Gadsden and Etowah County Emergency Management Agency, who arrived in Baldwin County earlier. EMA Director Deborah Gaither, Breonna Cole and Kip Williams answered the call for statewide EMA assistance. While Williams worked in logistics, Cole served as a situation leader and Gaither planned for Baldwin County EMC. Though Williams did work in the field, the trio primarily served in the operations center.
The responders have daily briefings with the municipalities and the county, including law enforcement officers and firefighters. The EMA workers collect the needs from the municipalities and county and make requests for the resourced to be filled. They sort out details like paperwork, transport and accountability.
Gaither noted that while individuals are volunteering from Etowah County, there are people providing assistance from counties statewide. She spoke with the Baldwin County EMA director, who mentioned that when Hurricane Ivan hit, about 50,000 people were without power. With Sally, the number climbed to 88,000 because the number of residents in Baldwin County has grown so much in the past years. While it takes a larger footprint to reinstate normalcy in Baldwin County, caring men and women extend helping hands wherever needed to work towards that goal.
“Most first responders are individuals who have a caring nature and want to do what is right by mankind and their fellow citizens,” said Gaither. “It makes us all feel good when we can go and do something that we’re trained to do. It’s a good thing that we don’t have to do it often, but when we do have to, we’re glad we’ve been trained and that it makes somebody else’s job a little easier. It helps us remember why it is that we do these things.”
Both Gadsden’s 16 volunteers and EMA workers are expected to return to Etowah County by Friday, October 2.