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Black Earth firefighters gain new tool for rescues after historic floods

BLACK EARTH (WKOW) — After historic flooding last summer, Black Earth firefighters are taking action to be better prepared in the future.

When heavy rains fell on August 20, 2018, Black Earth was nearly inaccessible because of high water and washed out bridges.

“People were stranded in cars with water coming in, people on the roofs of their cars because there was not much showing, evacuation of houses, collapsed walls,” said Fire Chief Mitch Hodson.

Boats came from across the state the help firefighters evacuate their community. It took 50 hours to clear nearly 100 homes.

“It was very tiring. It was an incredibly busy time. And we’re lucky that we were able to perform as well as we were,” said Firefighter Peter Kaminski. “It took a lot of grit and a lot of incredible teamwork from ours and other departments.”

This spring, the department decided to make a big investment it its future. They now have a special boat for water rescues. It can be used for flooding, and if someone gets stranded on the river.

“We’ve relied on other fire departments to help us out, now we have the resources to take care of that area ourselves,” said Hodson.

Firefighters finished up a four-day training on Monday, focused on safety during rescues.

“We’ve learned a lot of ways that we can make things work without the boat as well as how to use the boat. We need to train up with some of our other firefighters and pass along some of those skills,” said Kaminski, who will now be certified in this specialty.

The firefighters learned from trainers who travel the country teaching responders how to rescue people and animals.

“People risk their lives to save their animals and will stay behind in a disaster if those services aren’t provided,” said Eric Thompson, who led the training.

Wisconsin Large Animal Emergency Response was also involved in the training session.

Thompson says the training follows FEMA guidelines of response. His group, based out of Kansas City, also trains in other disaster response, but flood rescue has been more prominent in recent years as communities across the country have been hit with high water.

“It just increases that community base of response. I think the biggest thing is it’s great to see the community come together,” Thompson said.

Before Black Earth got the boat, firefighters had to get help from other area departments for any rescues, which could take hours. Now, they hope to help other communities in the area that don’t have this resource.

“Just being there to help support other agencies, these types of affiliations that we’re building are really incredibly valuable,” Kaminski said.

As the Black Earth community continues to recover from the August floods, they’re now reassured by a new resource to help in the river community that will always be at risk.

The volunteer department was able to buy the boat with grant money. Firehouse Subs donated $15,000 to Black Earth for the purchase.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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