Pictured from left to right: Jennifer Morrison (Vermont Public Safety Commissioner), JM Keep (Asheville FD), Isacc McCurry (Asheville FD), Michael Desrochers (President of the National State Fire Marshal Association), Jacob McCracken (West Buncombe FD), Jesse Heard (Asheville FD), Lucas McCracken (West Buncombe FD), Scott Hare (Asheville FD), Dan Coward (Skyland FD), James Kodaras (Asheville FD), Lee Benfield (Skyland FD), Chris Sitton (Skyland FD), Brittany Robinson (Buncombe County EM), Allen Morgan (Buncombe County EM), Mark Schell (North Carolina EM), Mike Gibson (Upper Hominy FD), Eric Barnwell (Skyland FD), Chris Fultz (FEMA Virginia TF1), Derek Libby (Vermont TF1 Team Leader), Mike Cannon (Vermont TF1 Manager)
“No matter where you live, we're all just one storm or disaster away from needing help from other agencies, and they can come from multiple states away,” says Buncombe County Task Force Two member Dan Coward of their deployment to Vermont. In early July, the Green Mountain State experienced significant flooding and the forecast called for even more precipitation that would significantly impact already devastated areas. Enter Buncombe County’s Task Force Two, a specialized group made up of multiple Buncombe County emergency response personnel, fire departments, and more.
The team headed north on July 9 to make the 17-hour, 966-mile trip to help Vermont’s overstretched emergency response teams. While it might not seem intuitive for a team from Western North Carolina to travel so far to offer assistance, Emergency Management Division Manager Brittany Robinson says it makes perfect sense. “Vermont requested out-of-state teams to help as they are a smaller state and not as resource rich as other states. They knew other areas in the north were experiencing the same type of weather, so they did not want to pull from the neighboring states,” she explains. In fact, after recent FEMA training and equipment upgrades, this was Task Force Two’s first out-of-state operation.
Once on the ground in Vermont, the 17-member team’s priority was assisting myriad responses across the state in towns like Cambridge, Manchester, and Huntington Gorge. “As emergencies were called in, they would call us directly and give us the assignment location. At times it could be an hour drive, so our team stayed in a readiness state 24/7,” says Brittany. Once arriving at those various locations, Task Force Two member Dan says they had their hands full. “Our work consisted of performing various water-rescue assignments such as relocating trapped victims to dry land and safe havens. We were also able to assist with a missing person search and going door-to-door after the water receded to perform damage assessments where we gather vital information from the affected residents,” says Dan. “Any information we could gather we were able to upload giving responders a more accurate picture of the extent of the damage and which towns were hit the hardest. Also, the information would assist the residents with obtaining FEMA assistance.”
Task Force Two member Mike Gibson says their existing skills were well utilized, echoing they were assigned a variety of emergency response tasks from swift-water rescues to evacuations to helping with day-to-day operations of local fire departments. “We were ready for anything thrown at us, we had knowledgeable personnel, the equipment, and the willingness to get in there and help people in their worst times,” he shares. “Learning is a continued thing in emergency services. You will never have the same incidents, but staying on top of training and having the best equipment will help stabilize and mitigate any incident we are sent on. And that is exactly what happened in Vermont.”
After nine days, Task Force Two departed back to Buncombe County, but not without lessons learned and friendships forged. “The people we dealt with were very friendly and very appreciative that we had come so far to help them. A true friendship was made with the people of the Cambridge Fire Department. They did not want us to leave, and their hospitality showed while we were assigned to them,” exclaims Mike. Dan says he enjoyed the relationships he made, but also having the chance to transfer his skills to a completely different terrain. “I enjoyed getting to see different scenery and environments that other states have to offer and to see how certain types of natural weather disasters affect different geographical landscapes,” he says. “When they found out that we had traveled all the way from North Carolina, some of them were brought to tears because they just couldn't believe we would come from so far away to help.”
Buncombe County is extremely proud of the members of Task Force Two and their willingness to leave family and friends behind to put their lives on the line for people they have never met. Thank you for your dedication to emergency response efforts in our backyard and beyond.
Task Force Two team members helping with the Vermont flooding
- Allen Morgan (Buncombe Co. Emergency Services) – Team Leader
- Brittany Robinson (Buncombe Co. Emergency Management) – Planning, Logistics
- Eric Rogers (Buncombe County Emergency Management) -Structural Specialist
- Eric Barnwell (Skyland Fire Department)– Structural Specialist
- Chris Sitton (Skyland Fire Department)- Swift water technician / boat operator
- Dan Coward (Skyland Fire Department)– Swift Water technician
- Nick Stafford (Skyland Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician /boat operator
- Lee Benfield (Skyland Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician/boat operator
- Lucas McCracken (West Buncombe Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician
- Jacob McCracken (West Buncombe Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician
- Mike Gibson (Upper Hominy Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician /boat operator
- JM Keupp (Asheville Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician
- Scott Hare (Asheville Fire Department) – Swift Water Technician / boat operator
- Jesse Heard (Asheville Fire Department)- Swift Water Technician
- James Kodaras (Asheville Fire Department)– Swift Water Technician
- Issac McCurry (Asheville Fire Department) – Communications/Drone Support
- Mike Schell (North Carolina Emergency Management) – Liaison
About Task Force Two
Task Force Two is made up of multiple Buncombe County emergency response personnel, fire departments, and more. North Carolina has only seven Urban Search and Rescue Teams, and Task Force Two is trained and qualified to respond to situations involving structural collapse, trench rescue, swift-water rescue, wide-area search operations, support communications, and drone operations.