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Dickinson deployed fire service reports from Louisiana; updates Ida recovery efforts

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Selle gives a report from Baton Rouge, La., on the status of the crew of four Dickinson firefighters who were deployed to the Hurricane Ida affected area.

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Firefighters from the Dickinson and Williston Fire departments pose for a picture after physical training with fire personnel from the Schriever Fire Department in Schriever, La., approximately two hours south of Baton Rouge where residents are recovering from Hurricane Ida. A couple of North Dakota firefighters were deployed to the region at the beginning of September to help alleviate fire departments and lend a hand to those hurricane-affected residents. (Contributed / Dickinson Fire Department)
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More than 1,700 miles away, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Selle took a quick break from the recovery efforts to give an update on the status of the four Dickinson firefighters deployed with other North Dakota departments as part of Hurricane Ida relief crews earlier this month.

A convoy consisting of Selle, along with senior firefighter Alaynea Decker and firefighters Hunter Flynn and Mason Geiger, departed for the ravaged Gulf Coast of Louisiana as part of a team comprising of five fire service members from Williston’s city and rural fire departments on Sept. 4. The North Dakota contingent joins approximately 1,500 firefighters from across the nation who have responded to the Baton Rouge area as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, including six firefighters from the Bismarck Rural and Williston fire departments who left on Sept. 1.

When the group of nine firefighters from Dickinson and Williston arrived in Baton Rouge late Sunday, Sept. 5, they spent one night in the Federal Emergency Management Agency base camp location. At 9 a.m. the next day, Selle noted that they received their mission statement and were assigned to the Schriever Fire Department, approximately 80 miles south of Baton Rouge.

Since being stationed at the Schriever Fire Department, the North Dakota firefighters have been on call 24/7.

For Selle and the rest of his DFD crew, this is the first time they’ve ever experienced a natural disaster to this magnitude. Trees have snapped, fallen and wrecked what was once clean neighborhoods. Power lines are either hanging low or by a thread, leaving homes and street lights to darkness.

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“It's kind of amazing how the community is still functioning as they are without having power. We've been lucky enough that our station has got a generator and we’re able to function normally,” Selle said.

Hurricane Ida rolled in with sustained winds speeds of 150 mph, hitting Louisiana on Aug. 29 and shutting power off for tens of thousands. With power outages expected to continue for the next month, many residents have had to rely on generators for electricity. This, in turn, has increased call volume for the Schriever area, Selle said, adding that they’ve seen an uptick in carbon monoxide (CO) calls. With low winds and high humidity, CO tends to seep into houses and set off CO alarms inside people’s homes, he explained.

On Tuesday evening, the Schriever Fire Department got its power back and operating. As power gets turned on, Selle noted that call volumes are beginning to increase due to power line issues, activating alarm systems, auto accidents, etc. In Schriever, power is almost restored in the community but it’ll be a while before normalcy takes over.

“It still takes time and there’s still a lot of low power lines and things that have to be repaired and fixed. Trees need to be picked up and houses (need) building repairs. So there’s a lot of work to be done down here,” Selle said.

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A crew of four fire personnel from the Dickinson Fire Department, left, and five from the Williston Fire Department and Williston Rural Fire Department are pictured in front of the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, before taking off to Baton Rouge, La., to help Gulf residents recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ida. (Contributed / Dickinson Fire Department)

FEMA staged more than 3.4 million meals, millions of liters of water in the hurricane-affected region of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Selle added that as FEMA continues to send meals to the Schriever area, fire crews have been distributing those out to the community.

“It's just been a really eye-opening event and seeing how everything works together,” he said.

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Over the course of the two-week deployment, Selle has picked up a few useful tactics and skills from the Louisiana fire crew such as how their station is set up and all of the safety features enabled. Selle also found it neat that the Schriever firefighters park their vehicles in the same position every time and mark their hydrants to notify the next person on shift the direction of the water flow — which is something DFD has been looking to adopt.

“They've all been fantastic. The department we're working with is a great group of guys. The community has been really accessible to us and thankful for us to be down here and helping them out. We've really become our own little family down here with these groups; we eat meals (together), do our physical training every day, train on all the equipment… (We’re) learning their ways and they're learning our ways,” Selle said. “It's been a good learning environment for everybody.”

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Dickinson firefighters Hunter Flynn, left, and Mason Geiger stand in front of a Schriever Fire Department truck in Schriever, La., approximately 80 miles south of Baton Rouge — the region Hurricane Ida hit, causing estimates of $95 billion worth of damage. Hurricane Ida marks the seventh costliest hurricane to hit the United States since 2000. Crews from across the country were sent to help aid emergency crews, including four firefighters from the Dickinson Fire Department, who are expected to return on Sept. 22, 2021. (Contributed / Dickinson Fire Department)

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A logo from a Schriever Fire Department truck is pictured. (Contributed / Dickinson Fire Department)

Working alongside fellow North Dakota fire departments, such as Williston, has also been a rewarding experience, Selle said.

“It’s been a great environment and great crews to work with. We’re enjoying our new family,” Selle said, adding, “... It’s helped me grow a little bit. I’ve seen (how) all the departments run and get some ideas and also being able to share our knowledge that we have and bring it down here. It was a unique situation for us.”

The DFD crew’s last day of work in Louisiana is Sept. 20, and will begin their two-day drive back to Dickinson on Sept. 21. Over the weekend, Selle and his other North Dakota firefighters will continue assisting with calls and dealing with manpower issues if they arise.

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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