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18 EC firefighters, police officers helped in New Bern after storm

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Elizabeth City firefighters helped perform welfare checks on flooded homes in New Bern neighborhoods like this one on Sept. 16. Eighteen city firefighters and police officers provided more than 1,600 hours of service to New Bern in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, city officials said last week.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Eighteen Elizabeth City police and firefighters provided more than 1,600 hours of service to New Bern in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, police Chief Eddie Buffaloe and fire Chief Corey Mercer told members of City Council last week.

New Bern saw “devastating” damage to thousands of properties because of Florence, the chiefs reported in presentations to City Council. The storm’s devastation prompted police and firefighters from around the state to come to New Bern’s aid, including 10 Elizabeth City police officers and eight firefighters, Buffaloe and Mercer said.

Mercer said city firefighters Steven Murray, Joey Girbach, Todd Winslow and Chris Byrum went to New Bern on Sept. 15. Accompanying them were supplies and donations for storm victims, he noted.

While there, the firefighters worked mostly out of an electrical warehouse because the generator failed at the fire station where they were sent first. The four performed wellness checks on people in flooded neighborhoods and participated in water rescues and responded to gas leaks and structure fires.

As the waters receded, damage from the storm became more visible, Mercer said. He shared photos of downed trees, a home's collapsing balcony, and piles of debris and ruined belongings.

The storm also took out one of New Bern's fire engines, prompting Elizabeth City to send down one of its engines, Mercer said.

The fire chief said the deployment lasted longer than expected, prompting the fire department to rotate out the first firefighters it sent. The second group of firefighters deployed to New Bern included Kevin Wright, Cara McNany, Jason Sample and Walter Copeland.

They also responded to gas leaks and structure fires, as well as drug overdoses and other incidents before returning Sept. 24, Mercer said.

Buffaloe reported the police department initially sent six officers to New Bern on Sept. 18. They included William Davis, Michael Lane, Michael Ruffin, Gary Whitaker, Jeremy Dowdy and James Judge. The department sent a second team on Sept. 24 that included Benjamin Martin, Angel Rodriguez, Dexter Green and Zachary Lovitt, he added.

Buffaloe reported officers' work included patrolling flooded areas and helping exhausted New Bern police with calls for service. Elizabeth City officers also responded to suspicious death reports, a suicide attempt, overdose reports, and involuntary commitments, he said.

Buffaloe also said the city officers helped run checkpoints — protecting flooded neighborhoods and the property — and even helped with the traffic detail when President Donald Trump visited the community.

In a tweet, the Elizabeth City Fire Department and Currituck Fire-Rescue are among those the city of New Bern's Fire-Rescue specifically thanked for assisting with rescues and responding to routine alarms.

Though New Bern officials were grateful for the aid, Mercer and Buffaloe also noted the community will be a long time in recovering. Buffaloe said New Bern officials have estimated 4,325 homes and 300 businesses were damaged during the storm, with damages estimated at just over $100 million.

Mercer also believes New Bern could be feeling Florence's impact for a decade or more.

“What you've seen on TV and what you'll see during this PowerPoint presentation is just a drop in the bucket of what their needs are,” Mercer said. “It's going to take them at least 10 to 15 years to recover.”

City councilors praised the police and firefighters' service, particularly since Florence had very little impact on Elizabeth City.

As a further gesture of thanks to the police and firefighters, Councilor Johnnie Walton moved to grant each of them a paid day off. Councilors approved it unanimously.

In a followup interview, City Manager Rich Olson said the city didn't have a policy for awarding time off to personnel who respond to emergencies in other communities. He said the city's human resources department is evaluating how to handle council's directive.

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