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Monday, May 2, 2016

Local firefighters deemed heroes

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Emily McIntosh

Staff Writer

Many would agree that not enough can be said about area fire departments and the ones who served them and other emergency personnel during the recent ice storm.

Volunteer firefighters helped at emergency shelters and did welfare checks on the elderly and those who live in remote areas of the county. Many firefighters had to form chain saw crews to clear a path to get to people's houses.

Camp Fire Department

The Camp Fire Department, though it had its share of problems, according to Fire Chief Butch Bologna, did well during the ice storm. Bologna said there were several valves on the trucks that froze and broke, and many of the crew had to use their personal vehicles to get to people who were trapped in their homes.

Before the ice storm hit, Bologna said, the fire department was in the process of getting all new trucks to replace their old ones. That process is still ongoing.

"Monday, we started getting prepared because I knew it was going to be bad," Bologna said.

Tuesday morning, Bologna, his wife and daughter, with the aid of other Camp firefighters, spent about six hours chopping away at debris to get a mile out of the road Bologna and his family live on, he said. Though the Camp crew was working diligently to free their chief from the debris that covered the road, they did not shrink on their duties. While they were pulling and sawing away at trees and limbs, they got a medical call and had to leave and come back later to finish getting Bologna and his family out, Bologna said.

"Once I got out, we started trying to get to folks," Bologna said.

The fire department soon mapped out its entire district and put it on a grid, Bologna said. Crews were assigned to sections on the grid to check on people. "We wanted to make sure everyone in our district was contacted," Bologna said. "We had a lot of ground to cover."

Bologna said, because of the large amount of debris that was blocking roadways, crews had to drive as far as they could and then walk. "We walked and walked," Bologna said.

He said, everyone they contacted was in the same condition -- all without power but staying warm and stocked up on food. "Everybody was glad to see us," Bologna said.

When water started arriving through the county, Bologna said, he and his crews went by residents' houses and dropped water off.

Bologna said, his crew worked an average of about 16 hours per day during the ice storm.

"Overall, everything was just so successful with my department," Bologna said. "We all agreed we did a pretty good job."

Salem Fire Department

The Salem Fire Department had to rough out things for a while, too, but Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett said the firefighters performed their jobs well.

"We started a few days before the storm checking our equipment: chain saws, generators, tire chains and such," Everett said. "When the storm began, it was quiet at first, until the night, when trees started falling. We had several firemen out using saws and wenches to assist in road clearing."

The North Arkansas Electric Cooperative soon employed the fire department's help. "Day two (of the ice storm) began with a request from NAEC to use our Haz-Mat shower trailer for their lineman to shower. The trailer was delivered but was not used because they had came up with rooms for their crews," Everett said. "The rest of the day, firemen performed many welfare checks of people in our fire response area because, at this time, the power was going out all over."

Firefighters continued to do welfare checks and clear roads. They also helped deliver bottled water to many residents who were without running water, Everett said. He said firefighters did a welfare check on a family that had no power and was almost out of wood for heat.

Though the fire department was without power, as well, firefighters were resourceful. "The fire department was like everyone else, without power for several days," Everett said. "So, with the help of Jackie Orr, we pulled our big generator we normally use to run our two Haz-Mat trailers off to run the fire station. One of the main problems was that our firemen were having trouble charging radios. Once we got the station on generator power, we had heat and a charging area for radios."

Like Camp and many other volunteer fire departments, Salem firefighters were still able to do their duties even though they had troubles of their own. "We responded to a motor vehicle accident on Highway 9 South. Due to the ice, it was a very scary ordeal," Everett said. "In this incident, we had two people to get to an ambulance over solid ice. The ambulance had to be pulled back up the hill with a fire truck. Then, the (injured) people had to be put in my Haz-Mat truck and drove up the ditch to the ambulance."

Everett said the fire department's mission changed a bit when the Air National Guard 189th arrived in Salem. "We assisted them by taking our Haz-Mat shower trailer to the fair grounds and set up for them to use in the week ahead. Also, we sent several of our AWIN radios for the 189th to use during their work," Everett said.

Many firefighters were without power at their homes and were worried about their own families as they were out and about helping others during the ice storm. "The big picture that people seem to forget is that all the firemen in our county are volunteer. We, as firemen, had our own problems like everyone else," Everett said. "We had property damage, no power and our families to keep safe along with our regular jobs and our fire duties. Due to the overwhelming size of this storm, I am very proud of how the Salem firemen pulled together to get the job done."

Everett said he was able to house one of his firefighters and his family at his house where he had a generator and a gas backup heat source.

Other volunteer fire departments did more than their fair share of volunteering, as well. From Viola to Glencoe and Horseshoe Bend and all the fire departments in between and beyond, volunteer firefighters did a world of good in a natural disaster where many were scared and needed to know someone was watching out for them.

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