Gloucester firefighters have long, busy night

by Sherry Hamilton and Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Apr 20, 2011 - 04:59 PM

Photo: Major Darrell Warren, chief deputy of the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office, second from left, discusses operations with members of Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue on Sunday morning. Photo by Charlie Koenig.

Major Darrell Warren, chief deputy of the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office, second from left, discusses operations with members of Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue on Sunday morning. Photo by Charlie Koenig.

Abingdon Fire and Rescue Chief Herb Austin was at home watching television Saturday evening when the emergency broadcast system said that a tornado had been spotted on the ground near Busch Gardens in James City County and was headed toward Gloucester Point.

He got his gear ready, just in case, and within five minutes a call came in that a tornado had struck on Hummingbird Lane and two people were trapped. From that time until 2 a.m., fire and rescue crews were busy cutting their way through downed trees, treating injured patients, and searching for people who might be trapped in the rubble.

Austin said he set up a command post at the corner of Hickory Fork Road and Richneck Lane, with assistant EMS chief Phillip Veek in charge of patient care and master firefighter Robert Parlett in charge of search and rescue.

Power lines were tangled in among broken and uprooted trees, initially preventing rescue vehicles from driving through neighborhoods in the Coke area of the county, said Austin, so several individuals hit the ground on foot and came up from behind to search homes. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Dominion Virginia Power responded rapidly, and pretty soon vehicles were able to get through.

"VDOT and Virginia Power were wonderful," said Austin. "I’ve never seen them respond so fast; they did an incredible job."

In addition to three officers, Austin said there were 23 search and rescue volunteers and 22 emergency medical personnel, including 17 EMTs, on the scene.

Five search and rescue teams plus deputies from the Gloucester Sheriff’s Office began systematically going home-to-home looking for injured people, said Austin, as five crews of EMTs, including one crew from York County, began assessing, treating and transporting injured residents. Twelve people were badly injured and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, he said, while "some people got themselves to the hospital."