When a hurricane threatens North Carolina, it’s a good bet some Raleigh firefighters will be among the first responders.
On Aug. 2, 2020, in advance of Hurricane Isaias, nine members of the Raleigh Fire Department deployed to Williamston, N.C. They ended up responding to the devastation near Windsor in Bertie County. The National Weather Service estimates the EF-3 tornado spawned winds of up to 140 miles per hour. The rescue team got the call around 3 a.m. Even in the dark, with the winds still howling and the rain pouring, Captain Kevin Ellsworth knew it was bad.
“It looked like just bits and pieces,” said Ellsworth. “Things that had been structures were strewn across fields. The wind just obliterated the place.“
The group that responded is part of the North Carolina Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 8, a regional rescue team comprised of members of the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill fire departments, and Wake County EMS. Task Force 8 can be deployed statewide for major incidents, including tornados, hurricanes, and explosions. The team had to chainsaw its way through downed trees and clear power lines before they could get to any homes.
Once they made their way through the debris, they heard yelling. That’s when they spotted a mobile home pinned against a tree. It had flipped several times. Inside, they found two elderly brothers trapped with no way out.
“We had to climb up on top to get in and then pull them out. They were definitely happy to see us. I think God put us in the right place to find them ,” said Ellsworth.
The tornado did claim the lives of two people but, fortunately the brothers only had minor injuries.
Ellsworth says rescue missions like this are what make their job so special.
“It’s huge to us when we are able to do something like that. It’s a good feeling to know you’ve made a difference.”
Raleigh Firefighters on Site:
- Kevin Ellsworth
- Chris Holcomb
- Ryan Dover
- Zachary Reynolds
- Randall Schmidt
- Luis Urbina
- David Boyette
- Brantley Hobbs
- Alex Soucy