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185th Firefighters Aid in Search and Rescue Efforts after Devastating Flood Recedes from Cedar Rapids

  • Published
  • By Capt Kevin Heineman
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Chada did not know what to expect when he was called to active duty to help with the flood relief efforts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last week. But when you are trained as a firefighter, you expect to do just about anything when help is needed.

After spending a day filling sandbags and providing security, the 185th firefighter was assisting within the Iowa Task Force Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) "Strike" teams, put together to clear houses in the flooded flat areas along the Cedar River near downtown Cedar Rapids after the flood waters receded.

"I feel all the training I've done is paying off," said Chada, a traditional guardsman who normally spends all of his drill weekends training. "It never crossed my mind this is what I would be doing when I signed up for the Guard."

One by one, each house was searched for possible flood victims who may have remained in their homes during the flood along with pets the residents may have left behind, and the general safety of the home such as leaking water pipes, caved in basement walls, or electrical and fire hazards.

"We check the foundation to make sure it is sturdy," said 185th Firefighter, Technical Sgt. Troy Schultzen. "We want to make sure the structure of the house is safe, that the walls are not collapsing or leaning, or that anything else is going to make it unsafe for the homeowners to go into their home to retrieve some of their belonging."

Since the residents were not allowed in the area, and many had locked their doors prior to leaving the flooded area, Strike team members had to knock down doors and break windows to gain entry into the residents.

Once inside the homes, members found nothing but total destruction left behind by the flood. Most of the homes had three or four inches of mud, deposited on the floors of the residence after the waters had receded.

Furniture was upside down lying in the middle of the rooms covered in mud. Trash was everywhere. Some of the homes already had black mold growing on the walls, and everything inside the homes was lying wherever the flood waters had left them.

"It's not looking very good," said 185th Firefighter Staff Sgt. Anthony Schrader. "There may be a few things left in the upstairs, but in a lot of the houses, the water even reached there."

In a few of the homes, they found people who had stayed in their homes during the flood. Anyone found in the homes were asked to leave so the teams could continue on with their rescue efforts.

In other homes, members found many pets including dogs, cats, birds, and hamsters. "In one of the homes I found a couple of finches," said Chada. "I called the animal rescue and they came and picked up the finches and hopefully will be able to reunite them with their owner." Once found, the animals were placed into cages and handed over to local animal shelter experts.

Corey Archer, Search Specialist for Iowa Task Force One, Cedar Rapids Division, was happy to have the extra help of the 185th Firefighters.

"They played a pretty vital part here because we are spread pretty thin covering 3400 to 3800 houses," said Archer. "Using their assets and expertise is helping us out quite a bit."

The 185th firefighters did many of the same tasks the civilian firefighters were doing. "They are certified in checking out structures and know how to use the breaching equipment just like regular civilian firefighters," said Archer.

"All of our guys are technical rescue certified and we are working with the USAR teams out of Sioux City, Cedar Rapids as well as firefighters out of Cedar Rapids. "We are knowledgeable in this kind of stuff," said 185th Firefighter Staff Sergeant Anthony Shrader.

Guard members brought not only their expertise to Cedar Rapids, but an understanding of the teamwork needed to complete the mission at hand.

Schrader, who farms a family farm near Ewing, Nebraska, understands the importance of teamwork and helping your neighbors. "It makes me feel good to be here," said "I like being down here and helping other folks out because obviously they can't do it by themselves .... Nobody can."

Lieutenant Col. Neil Stockfleth, 185th Maintenance Group Commander, said he was proud of the Guard's efforts in Cedar Rapids.

"The 185th Air Refueling Wing is proud to be here, we are proud to be helping out, and humbled by the outpouring of support and welcome by the people who been so deeply affected," said Stockfleth. "We are glad to be here helping out, and at the end of the day, that is what we are here to do."