It’s been about a month since members of Colchester Technical Rescue saw something they’ve never experienced: the devastation that was Hurricane Florence. 

The team spent 10 days in North Carolina helping those experiencing the worst moments of their lives.

“We got a call for four people trapped on their vehicle,” says Tyler Cootware,  “The water had come up so quick.”

Cootware had only been on the team for a couple weeks before he and five others headed to Bladen County, North Carolina.

“You can see the water coming into the bed of the truck and they’re up on the toolbox,” Cootware says, showing Morning Anchor Megan Carpenter first-hand video of a rescue.

The magnitude of what crews dealt with is something Cootware and fellow team member, Emily Fitzpatrick, say they’ve never seen before.

“I have no words to even compare it to any of the things we ever did here,” says Fitzpatrick.  “The speed the water rose is everything they tell you about when you’re training.”

Both traveled with Vermont’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.  The state agency employs members from about a half dozen partner agencies to respond where help is needed. 

“We initially had a lot of flash flooding and high winds,” says Colchester Tech Rescue Chief, Mike Cannon.  ‘We had no power, we had no sanitary facilities, all we had was running cold water, and we were basically cut off from cell phones and media for about four or five days.”

Cannon has held his title since 1989.  Even he is still shocked by what he and his crew just experienced.

“It was watching the flash flooding, watching the water rise over the doors of these homes and businesses, doing many rescues of people on top of cars, on top of houses, all while you’re operating under tropical storm force winds and it was all at night,” Cannon says.

Living conditions were less than stellar.

“I think camping would’ve been cleaner than what we had to deal with,” says Fitzpatrick.  “We didn’t have fresh toilets or anything like that, we slept inside an apparatus bay in a giant room and we took showers with a hose.”

Cannon adds that his team never complained.

“It’s pretty humbling to see these folks work on two or three hours of sleep,” Cannon says. “They’d get up in the middle of the night and go pull people out of cars or people with medical  issues stranded in their house without the means to leave.”

Rescues happened through the day they left.

“We did 41 people rescues and that’s people taken out by either boat by cars and houses and 40 evacuations of people and 10 pets,” says Cannon.

It’s what this 26-member crew trains for and it’s certainly not the only skill they have.

“It’s more than the medical side of things,” says Fitzpatrick.  “It’s hiking, diving, swift water, so it’s more the adventurous side of rescuing.”

“We also do rope rescues which go hand in hand with a lot of the water holes where these rescues take place,” Cannon adds.  “We’re also trained in confined space rescue, trench rescue, and building collapse and moving water rescue.”

Those wanting to join and those already a part of the team must make 12 of the 24 scheduled trainings each year, so they’re prepared for anything.

“It’s very rewarding,” says Fitzpatrick.  “It’s a different type of vacation.”

Colchester Tech did not respond to Hurricane Michael, though Cannon says his team prepared to go, should they receive a call.  To learn more about joining the ranks, click here.