After one phone call, members of the Hannibal Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team rapidly prepared to head south on Friday, where swollen waterways and heavy rains posed threats of flooding in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Hannibal Fire Department Chief Sean Hampton said he received a call Thursday evening from the Missouri State Mutual Aid Coordinator, who reported that past heavy rainfall and forecasted rain brought concerns of flooding — with some streams and rivers running bank-full and others already overflowing their banks. The four-member Hannibal team brought two trucks, a large trailer and a military-style Zodiac inflatable boat to help with rescue operations and wellbeing checks in Poplar Bluff and the surrounding area. Hampton said the expected weekend rainfall could raise water levels higher, bringing increased risk of flash floods and increased chances for the rescue situations that the Hannibal firefighters have been regularly training for.
The team initially planned to head out after lunch, Hampton said, but the Missouri State Mutual Aid Coordinator called back to request assistance as soon as possible. The crew members had been preparing equipment and getting ready for the trip ahead of schedule, and the convoy rolled out of Station #2 about an hour before lunch. Hampton said the team was on standby to help when Hurricane Matthew struck South Carolina in 2016. This time, the team was on their way to assist responders like Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Rescue personnel and members of the Poplar Bluff Fire Department for flood relief.
"It’s just one community helping another, one area helping another," Hampton said. "It’s nice to have a resource that we can extend out to another community, because we know other communities around the state — or even in another state — would help us out as well."
When the Hannibal team arrives, they will start out at the Poplar Bluff Fire Department, where they will receive orders on how they can help. The crew will have a place to sleep at the firehouse, but they are prepared to be completely self-sustaining for 72 hours. The crew can set up their trailer in a rural area with cots, food, fuel, electricity generators and other necessary items. Hampton said the Zodiac boat is ideal for flash flooding, with lightweight construction and the ability to traverse shallow water.
Hampton said the Swift Water Team is a crucial rescue and response unit, and the department hopes to add two to four more crew members in the future. The team regularly attends weeklong trainings with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri State University swift water class, with training in Thunder River at Six Flags. Team members also train with local water rescue officials, and other members of the Hannibal Fire Department assist with activities like boat operations. The constant training and preparedness came together smoothly when Hampton received a second call asking to move the timeframe up. As everyone at Station 2 worked together, the team was soon ready to roll.
With rainfall covering large areas of the state, Hampton reminded citizens about some key things to remember when waters rise. If there is any water on a roadway, turn around and go back. Even if the water appears shallow, it could quickly carry a vehicle away. Hampton also urged residents in low areas and regions at risk for flash flooding to heed emergency bulletins and evacuate the property if prompted to do so.
After saying goodbyes to fellow firefighters, the four members of the Swift Water Rescue Team were well on their way to helping keep people safe during their first trip to Poplar Bluff.
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at email@example.com