State Fire’s finest — 34 men, one woman, and two dogs — roll out to help the hurting after Irma hits in Florida

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“I’m proud that you guys are representing New York,” says Kevin Wisely, deputy commissioner of New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services on Thursday evening inside the State Fire’s warehouse at the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland before the group of 35 members, which include New York Task Force 2, an urban search and rescue team, travels to Florida.

GUILDERLAND CENTER — Dax, a black Lab mix, romped playfully with an empty plastic water bottle Thursday evening until his handler, Greg Gould, said quietly but firmly, “Kennel.”

With that, Dax dropped the plastic bottle and immediately sprang into a nearby shiny white truck, emblazoned with red capital letters proclaiming “State Fire.”

Dax’s truck is part of a convoy now heading for Florida just as Hurricane Irma, coming from the other direction, is also heading for Florida.

Gould, from Delmar, had assembled with 34 other members of the Office of Fire Prevention and Control task force for search and rescue.

Another such task force is currently serving in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Gould told a gaggle of reporters that Dax is trained to do live-victim searches and had served during disasters in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia.

“He is a smart one,” said Gould. “He knows his game and what he has to do.”

Dax is also a good swimmer.

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Awaiting orders: Dax, one of the two live-victim search-and-rescue dogs being deployed to Florida, sits beside other State Fire vehicles waiting for his handler’s, Greg Gould, instructions to hop into their vehicle to head off to Florida on Friday evening at the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center.

“Good luck,” reporters and cameramen called out as Dax leapt into his truck.

Inside the nearby cavernous Building 10 at the Northeastern Industrial Park, the specialized team of first responders gathered before their long drive south.

Kevin Wisely, deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, gave the assembled group a pep talk, telling them that Irma would ravage the state of Florida.

“I’m proud that you guys are representing New York,” he said.

Members of the task force secured loads of lumber on tractor-trailer truck beds and checked on Jet Skis and inflatable boats that were loaded onto trailers.

The convoy is headed for Stark, Florida, near Jacksonville, Chet Lasell, a spokesman for the state’s Homeland Security told The Enterprise. The 35 task force members, along with two trained search-and-rescue dogs, will stay at Camp Blanding, he said.

“It’s a staging area,” said Lasell. “They are there for 14 days as the state of Florida requested.” He added, “The time may change at either end.”

Wisely told the assembled press, “Governor Cuomo has been very proactive” in offering help to both Texas and Florida. Also on Thursday, 124 airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard were deployed to the United States Virgin Islands in response to Irma.

Wisely said that the task force leaving for Florida will be living in conditions similar to what citizens there will go through. He named power outages, compromised bridges and roads, and collapsed structures as likely possibilities.

Wisely said the task force, which he described as “very professional and well trained,” would be able to sustain itself with food, water, and accommodations if need be.

“It’s important we have that neighbor-helping-neighbor approach because our time will come,” Wisely said.

The 35 task force members — 34 men and one woman — gathered in front of Building 10 so the press could take farewell pictures.

Then, just after 5 p.m., they climbed into their trucks and the convoy rolled away, heading south.

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