BATAVIA – Batavia fire Chief Randy Deicke led a contingent of Illinois firefighters to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, providing relief to residents and operating local fire stations.
Deicke and the deputy chief from another Illinois fire department served as co-commanders of the expedition, which spent about 10 days in Louisiana distributing food, water and supplies while handling emergency calls.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency put out a request for assistance and Deicke answered the call.
Fifteen fire engines from all over Illinois, including Elburn, Aurora and South Elgin, began rolling south on Sept. 7, arriving in Louisiana after a 22-hour drive.
There, Deicke and the fire companies under his command found the devastation that had been wreaked by Hurricane Ida between Aug. 26 and Sept. 4.
“Many of the trees and telephone poles were split in half,” Deicke said. “Electric lines were lying in the street. There was debris everywhere and 95% of the roofs had damage.”
Deicke and his co-commander, Homewood Deputy Chief Steve DeJong, set up a base camp on the campus of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, about 60 miles west of New Orleans.
They set up three “strike teams” each composed of five engines manned by four firefighters apiece, along with a team leader and an assistant.
The teams were deployed to Albany, Venice and rural areas of the state, taking over the operation of local fire houses.
“Most of the fire departments outside of New Orleans are pretty much volunteer departments,” Deicke said. The local firefighters were dealing with the damage wrought to their own homes.
The Illinois firefighters came from both suburban Chicago communities and downstate towns and villages, Deicke said. They worked well together because of their training and experience with mutual aid agreements.
“Our fire services are pretty well coordinated,” Deicke said. “There are a lot of commonalities.”
The teams performed the same duties that they handle at home. They battled two structure fires and responded to an automobile accident requiring victim extrication during the expedition, Deicke said.
With half the local residents without electricity, generators were in use everywhere, Deicke said. This led to calls for victims suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.
“There were electrical vehicles from all over the country working feverishly to restore power,” Deicke said. “There were hundreds of power poles down.”
Meanwhile, the firefighters handed out food and water to grateful residents. They supplied tarpaulins to provide cover for roofless houses and other buildings.
“The local people were very thankful and they would go out of their way to show their appreciation,” Deicke said.
For Deicke, working from a tent city at his base camp, his role was to oversee a monumental logistical effort.
Sleeping on a cot in the hot, humid atmosphere, Deicke and his comrades only found relief during a three-day rainstorm.
On Sept. 11, Deicke and his fellow firefighters observed the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks with a ceremony on the university campus.
Finally, the teams of firefighters assembled at the base camp on Sept. 18 before setting out the next day for the return trip to Illinois.
Those nights sleeping on a cot took their toll.
“I’m still a little sore,” Deicke said.