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Hall fire recruits get feet wet during storm
Members of recruit class 44 demonstrate an extrication from a vehicle during a demonstration during Firefighter Family Night in Gainesville on June 24, 2017. Recruits were put on the front lines last week answering calls during Hurricane Irma. - photo by David Barnes

With school out, it was time for 10 Hall County Fire Services recruits to suit up for the storm.

“We were all up for pretty much the entire night. It was nonstop cutting down trees, being out there. My turnout gear is still soaking wet from it,” recruit Cacey Henderson said.

The 10 recruits in emergency medical technician training were deployed during the storm, having already completed fire training.

“In doing so, we increased our staffing along our northern tier of stations in anticipation of increased call volumes in that area,” Capt. Zachary Brackett said. “The recruits were placed with experienced personnel and performed admirably throughout their tour.”

Gainesville Fire spokesman Keith Smith said they would not have monetary figures until payroll is settled.

“Due to the forecasted weather reports for Monday, we put an additional fire engine in service with three personnel,” Smith said. “We also put a ‘service’ vehicle in service with two personnel. These units were used to help with removing trees from roadways and marking the larger trees with fire line tape closing the street as well as checking on citizens in these areas.”

The total extra staffing was five people in fire response vehicles, with another three additional personnel at the Emergency Operations Center.

In the 24-hour period starting at 8 a.m. Monday, Gainesville Fire responded to 106 calls. The department’s daily average is 20 to 25 incidents.

“Throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, our personnel continued to run calls for trees on power lines, homes and across roadways,” Smith said.

The recruits worked a shift Monday and assessed damage on Wednesday before returning to Lanier Technical College for classes last week.

Henderson described a scene where he was trying to help the engine back up early in the morning after a roadway was blocked.

“The wind picks up. You start hearing the rain and the trees breaking overhead and start seeing branches fall like 20, 30 feet away. It’s the first time I’ve actually been put in an actual dangerous situation like that,” he said.

Recruit James Hairston said the county was covered with fallen trees, making it difficult at times to respond to a call.

“We’d go like maybe a mile, cut up another tree. Then we’d come around a corner, it’s another tree. We couldn’t make it because we were so tied up,” he said.

The recruits are constantly drilled on situational awareness, Hairston said. That got put to use when working in the pitch-black night, where the only light is a flashlight’s beam.

After having a first taste of the field and then returning to class, recruit Andrew Cape said it made some in the class want to finish up training and “be on shift and be out there every day.”

“It just feels good to give back and be out there to help the community,” Michael Bond said. “That’s the reason I wanted this job, to be able to help others and be a servant to my community and give back to the community in the ways that we did. It might be cutting trees or whatever needed to be done Monday night.”

The fellow recruits included Sergio Rosas, Herminio Hernandez, Zach Reichert, Dellon James, Travis Peters and Cody Montgomery.

Gainesville Police did not have staffing numbers and figures ready as of press time.

While schools were closed, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s school resource officer division with 11 employees worked 179.5 hours, according to preliminary numbers.

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