Orlando-area first responders grateful to be back home after assisting in Hurricane Laura response

Category 4 hurricane ravaged Texas-Louisiana border

ORLANDO, Fla. – One week ago, the Texas-Louisiana border was ravished by Hurricane Laura, which lashed the Gulf Coast, leaving more than a dozen dead, many injured and numerous buildings and homes destroyed.

One day before the storm made landfall, Central Florida first responders from the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force Four drove out to assist in the aftermath of the deadly storm. After almost five days, the 42-member team arrived back home in Orlando.

“It’s a joyous occasion today to safely have our task force back here in Central Florida all safe and sound, no injuries,” Orlando Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale said.

The team was deployed to some of the hardest-hit areas impacted by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm.

[READ MORE: ‘A time to pick up:’ Hurricane-hurt Louisiana begins cleanup | Red Cross of Central Florida deploys volunteers to assist Hurricane Laura victims]

“Our initial assignment was to that of Lake Charles. The next day we were reassigned to respond out to Cameron Parish that has not been touched by anybody from the outside world since the landfall of Hurricane Laura,” Walt Lewis, the task force leader, said.

During their mission, task force four discovered extensive wind damage to homes and buildings.

“They made two rescues. They found somebody trapped in a house with some injuries,” Mike Wajda, a division chief with Orange County Fire Rescue said. “They encountered somebody who was injured during the storm and had not had any aid until they made their way into Cameron and they airlifted that person out.”

The Central Florida search and rescue task force is led by Orange County Fire Rescue, the Orlando Fire Department and Seminole County Fire Department. Two members of the Clermont Fire Department were also part of this mission.

“Without hesitation and within just a moment’s notice, they made themselves available last week to leave town to put their lives on hold, not knowing if it was gonna be for a week or several weeks,” Orange County Fire Chief James Fitzgerald said.

It was an experience task force member Todd Zellers said is different in every deployment and they never know what challenges they’ll face.

“You never know what you’re getting into,” Zellers said. “One day you’re driving in a truck someplace, a tree may fall on you, you may step on an alligator, you know? You may get electrocuted, downed power lines everywhere. So you’re always on edge, you’re always on alert.”

Now back home, the task force members are just grateful they’re able to embrace their loved ones again.

“We also recognize first and foremost know that our families are the ones that are allowing us to do so. So we want to thank them so much for that,” Jimmy Madriaga, a task force member, said.

“The biggest group of people I would certainly like to thank is certainly our families. For them, we could not do the job that we do,” Lewis said.

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