NC take top honors for Matthew rescues

During Hurricane Matthew 30 teams rescued 2,336 people.

Rescue crews stage on a street in Lumberton, NC, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. Historic flooding hit much of eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew's rain pummeled an already soggy state. (The North State Journal/Eamon Queeney)

RALEIGH – As the October anniversary of Hurricane Matthew approaches, this week the state was recognized with an international outstanding achievement award for in Swift Water Rescue. The Higgins & Langley Award recognizes a high level of training and crisis coordination among rescuers and local, state and federal teams. N.C. received the honor for Matthew operations where more than 30 teams rescued 2,336 people.

The award was announced last week during the annual conference of the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals in South Bend, Indiana.

“This award recognizes great work done by our local, state and federal water rescue teams, both in the water and in the air, rescuing thousands of people from Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry.  “These teams train constantly and their capability and professionalism shines though in all their responses.”

North Carolina Emergency Management organizes the state’s search and rescue programs including swift water, wilderness, helicopter, and mountain teams positioned across the state. The Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Teams (NC HART) combine swift water rescue technicians with helicopters for rescues by air. They are often deployed anywhere in NC or across the country, including recent Harvey and Irma recovery efforts. NC HART combines aircraft and pilots from the NC State Highway Patrol or NC National Guard with swift water rescue technicians to rescue people trapped in trees, rooftops, or other precarious locations.

The program was launched after Hurricane Fran hit the state in 1996.  The N.C. Emergency Management developed an inventory of available teams with basic rescue capabilities. The new system was used extensively just three years later in Hurricane Floyd aftermath, when responders rescued hundreds of victims from flooded homes, cars, rooftops and trees.

Floyd’s rescue operations led to the development of specially trained teams for rescuing those trapped in floodwaters or swift water conditions.  Today, swift water and NCHART teams have become some of the state’s most activated specialized emergency responders.

N.C. received the Higgins and Langley Award in 2005 also, after swift water rescue teams saved more than 1,110 people following Tropical Storms Frances and Ivan.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County firefighter, paramedic, and swift water rescue pioneer, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

The following teams were recognized in the award:

  •        Apex Fire Department
  •        Brunswick County Emergency Services
  •        Buncombe County Emergency Services
  •        Burke County EMS
  •        Cary Fire Department
  •        Chapel Hill Fire Department
  •        Charlotte Fire Department
  •        Cumberland County EMS
  •        Davie County Rescue Squad
  •        Durham Fire Department
  •        East Lincoln Fire Department
  •        Fayetteville Fire and Police Departments
  •        FEMA Task Forces from Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania
  •        FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Incident Support Team
  •        Gaston County EMS
  •        Greensboro Fire Department
  •        Greenville Fire Department
  •        Henderson County Rescue Squad
  •        King Fire Department
  •        Lewisville Fire Department
  •        Lumberton Rescue Squad
  •        Mooresville Fire Department
  •        North Carolina Emergency Management
  •        North Carolina National Guard
  •        North Carolina State Highway Patrol
  •        North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  •        Onslow Rescue Squad
  •        Raleigh Fire Department
  •        Rockingham Rescue Squad
  •        Rocky Mount Fire Department
  •        South Orange Rescue Squad
  •        Transylvania County EMS
  •        United States Coast Guard Aviation and Punt Team
  •        Vance County Rescue Squad
  •        Winston-Salem Fire Department