Nebraska Task Force One deploys to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona

Rain, floods and an island-wide blackout continue in Puerto Rico even as the center of Fiona...
Rain, floods and an island-wide blackout continue in Puerto Rico even as the center of Fiona pushes past the island.
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 10:43 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 19, 2022 at 5:06 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Lincoln Fire Fighters don’t just answer the call for help here in Lincoln, in fact, they’re ready to put their skills to work on the front lines of any disaster, wherever it may happen. That includes Hurricane Fiona which hit Puerto Rico on Sunday.

Forty-five members of Nebraska Task Force One deployed on Monday. They got the call to go to Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. Sunday night.

Hurricane Fiona has caused havoc in Puerto Rico, knocking out all of the island’s power and causing catastrophic damage. The Nebraska Task Force’s job will likely be getting people to safety.

“We’re there to support the mission,” said Captain Dan Ripley, Task Force Leader. “As far as search and rescue operations, Wide-Area Searches. The mission is actually fairly open, but it’s going to be in the in the purview of search and rescue.”

The team of 45 people, mostly firefighters in eastern Nebraska, is deploying with a doctor, structural engineer and several K9′s flying out on Monday from Lincoln. The task force has never flown to a deployment outside of the continental U.S., so they’re approaching this mission differently.

“We’re taking our boats, but we’re taking them in a box, not on a trailer, and then when we get there will inflate them go to work,” Capt. Ripley said. “It’s going to be a state of things that some of us have seen before from prior deployments, but also an opportunity for us to go help those in those situations that are pretty rough where there’s no power, mudslides flooding.”

And they’re ready to adapt.

“Whether it’s search and rescue, whether it’s a humanitarian effort and assisting at hospitals, we’re able to go and do whatever is asked of us as a task force,” Capt. Riley said.

There’s a possiblity that they fly to Puerto Rico and can’t land because of storm conditions, but if all goes well, they’re planning to be on the ground before Tuesday.

“We’re trying to be swift, efficient and quick, and get out the door as fast as we can and get into play,” Capt. Riley said.

They’re expecting this deployment could last anywhere from 14 to 21 days as per average. There will be mental health services waiting for them when they return.

More: Fiona slams Dominican Republic after pounding Puerto Rico

Nancy Crist with LFR explained that this deployment is unique as the team is flying to Puerto Rico and FEMA already has equipment and supplies on the island to help in recovery efforts.

The island’s National Weather Service office said flash flooding was occurring in south-central parts of Puerto Rico and up to 22 inches of rain had fallen in some areas as forecasters said another 4 to 8 inches could fall — perhaps up to 15 inches in some places — even as the storm moves away.

U.S. President Joe Biden had declared a state of emergency in the U.S. territory as the eye of the storm approached the island’s southwest corner.