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WV responders headed to Florida for Hurricane Irma


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — John Williams started working on Kanawha County ambulances about 16 years ago, but Thursday was the first time he responded to a hurricane.

More than 20 emergency responders, including 17 from Kanawha County, took 10 ambulances and headed to Tallahassee, Florida, on Thursday morning as Hurricane Irma approached.

Joe Lynch, executive director of the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, speaks to emergency responders before they depart for Florida to help with the fallout from Hurricane Irma.
(Gazette-Mail photo by Kenny Kemp)

Williams, an emergency medical technician, said he expects to be in Florida for at least two weeks and possibly a month.

“It’s our job, though. It’s what we do here, and every place,” he said.

Paramedics will stage at the Leon County Fairgrounds and prepare to evacuate people in the area, said Wayne Harmon, chief of operations for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority.

“We transport the patients to safe areas,” Harmon said. “And then, once the storm is over, we help bring them back to where they belong.”

The Kanawha agency is providing 17 people and seven ambulances. The team also includes two ambulances from Jan-Care in Beckley, and another from Logan County EMS, Harmon said. AMR, a contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requested help from his agency.

Harmon has responded to three hurricanes, with the last being Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That storm made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center, and dumped up to three feet of snow in West Virginia as it also brought devastating winds and floods to the East Coast.

Irma remained a Category 5 hurricane on Thursday afternoon, and was one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean storms ever recorded.

“We get down there and we don’t know what kind of support we’ll have, so we got to be self-sufficient for 72 hours,” Harmon said.

During a hurricane, he said, emergency responders sometimes work more than 24 hours with few breaks.

He said the paramedics often sleep in tents or ambulances when possible.

“You don’t know what to expect,” Harmon said. “Not everybody’s gone through a hurricane.”

Reach Giuseppe Sabella at [email protected], 304-348-5189 or follow @Gsabella on Twitter.

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