While most of Maryland Task Force 1 returned on Sept. 6 after providing relief in Texas following Hurricane Harvey, the task force’s hazmat team redeployed for Hurricane Irma relief. Maryland Task Force 1 is composed of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service personnel.
While the task force of about 80 members is one of 28 such groups the Federal Emergency Management Agency has throughout the country, the hazmat team is one of six.
“The team itself is four or five hazardous materials technicians from the task force, and their general mission is to support the urban search-and-rescue teams that deployed in this space for Irma,” said Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for Montgomery Fire & Rescue Service.
The hazmat team had traveled almost to the Tennessee-Virginia border when FEMA officials redirected them to Alabama for a day and then to Georgia. The rest of the task force returned to Maryland Wednesday morning.
“Going from one [disaster] to another doesn’t happen very often, but being redeployed and moved around once you’re assigned to a particular disaster is fairly common,” Piringer said. “It’s not unusual to be redirected once you’re headed to a location and to better stage and position yourself to respond.”
Piringer said the hazmat team might move to another location, depending on where the greatest impact of Irma is.
Irma ravaged numerous Caribbean islands before making landfall in Florida as a Category 5 storm.
Meanwhile, the rest of Maryland Task Force 1 is on standby in Maryland. “They’re expected to be activated and ordered by FEMA to deploy probably in the next couple of days,” Piringer said.
Piringer said it is too early to know whether the Task Force will also be deployed to help with potential damage from Hurricane Jose.
“I like to think that we’re always ready and have that expectation,” Piringer said. “That’s one of the duties of a search-and-rescue team. They can be activated; they can be directed by FEMA. Once FEMA alerts and activates us, we’re typically out the door in three to four hours.”
Rebekah Jastremski, marketing manager for the American Red Cross for the National Capital Region, said 19 people—including two from Montgomery County— deployed to Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for two weeks to assist with Irma relief. Jastremski said they will likely provide assistance such as disaster services and relief as well as helping people access food.