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Fire rescue crews participate in helicopter rescue training

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Greenville Fire/Recue, North Carolina Emergency Management, and the North Carolina Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team participate a helicopter rescue training event at Pitt-Greenville Airport on April 18, 2018. (Moll Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Groups of rescuers walked with victims along the tarmac of the Pitt-Greenville Airport on Wednesday afternoon as the whirring of approaching helicopters could be heard in the distance.

Fortunately, this time it was just a drill.

But the drill was meant to train first responders for a major natural disaster like Hurricane Matthew, which wreaked havoc on North Carolina, killing 31 and displacing thousands of residents.

Greenville Fire-Recue, North Carolina Emergency Management and the North Carolina Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team (HART) participated in the helicopter rescue training event.

“The overall mission today is to work with the local emergency management and our local first responders in the community to recreate the events that happened on October 2016,” Greenville Fire-Rescue Captain Mervin Taylor said. “The helo team trains once a month so we become efficient with it and become prepared because you never know when that next major natural or man made disaster will come.”

Taylor added that during Hurricane Matthew, HART, rescued more than 60 people in Pitt County.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website, HART is a highly specialized team consisting of the N.C. National Guard and N.C. State Highway Patrol aircraft and aircrews matched with N.C. Emergency Management and local emergency services personnel that form a mission-ready package for helicopter based rescues.

Taylor said that HART performs wilderness rescues in the mountains, swift water rescues, and even technical rescues from cranes and cellphone towers.

“The events of Hurricane Matthew (are) based around trainings like this,” he said. “It just becomes just another training day and when the mission comes, you execute. That's why it's important to do this on a daily or monthly basis.

“During Hurricane Matthew, our goal here was Greenville (rescues),” Taylor said. “We took care of the citizens of Greenville and once it was okay, we executed down to Lumberton and worked there a couple of days. We worked for a solid week before we got much rest.”

Learning to communicate effectively was a vital lesson, he said.

“One of the largest lessons learned from Matthew was the communication piece from the local responder to the air asset,” Taylor said. “Today we are trying to do a wide-area search and hitting coordinates.”

Taylor noted that when emergency officials ask people to stay home and turn around, they should heed the warnings.

“Prevention is the number one key for us,” he said. “We can't reiterate it enough, turn around don't drown. Our number one key to survival is prevention.”

During Hurricane Matthew, Greenville Fire-Rescue crews performed more than 100 water rescues using boats.

Firefighter Tanner Tharrington played the part of a victim on Wednesday and had to be rescued by HART.

“We go out in the woods and sit out there and wait for the helicopter to come through and try to spot us and rescue us,” Tharrington said. I was playing the part of if someone was in a flooding situation or stranded situation. They put a cinch harness on you which goes around your body like they would in a real rescue for a civilian, and a guy comes down and hooks you all up and makes sure everything good and then gives hand signals to the helicopter and they start lifting you up.”

He added that trainings like this are productive and that they involves many agencies working together.

“It's not something you get to do every day and tt takes a lot of manpower,” Tharrington said. “It took a few weeks to prepare for the training. It's pretty wild to think that we go in there when everyone is trying to get out but it's what we're here for. That's what we train for but it's pretty awesome.”

Tyler Stocks can be contacted at Tstocks@reflector.com and 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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