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WHEELING, Ill – A convoy of 17 vehicles returned home to Wheeling Labor Day night after 45 members of the Illinois Urban Search and Rescue team spent a week in Louisiana helping victims of Hurricane Ida.
The Illinois Task Force one comprises firefighters from Arlington Heights, Carol Stream, Elk Grove Village, Glenview, Lisle, Naperville, Northbrook and Schaumburg.
Once on the ground, the group had an important mission assigned to a 270 square mile area in Livingston parish.
“It was very widespread damage. As we started getting closer and closer to southern Louisiana, we started seeing trees down and as we got closer, we saw structural damage. The roofs were gone, buildings were collapsed,” said Rick Zakaras with Naperville Fire Department.
“Before FEMA can help people and bring in Red Cross and everything else, they need to know the areas that were most severely damaged, so that’s our effort and our job to report that back,” Zakaras said.
Aside from search and rescue, the firefighters handed out food, water and oxygen to displaced people or those trying to shelter in their homes.
It wasn’t their first time responding to a hurricane for many of the brave men and women.
“I, too, was at Katrina 16 years ago. While you had a lot of concentrated effort in the city of New Orleans and surrounding parishes, in this case, it was widespread,” said Dave Datowith Newport Fire Protection District
“Being down in LA heat, we were looking at humidity up to 100% heat index over 100, so for people down there with no power and us interacting a couple of days in you really start to see the effects it has on them it’s tough to see,” said Jim McIntyre with Schaumburg Fire Department.
After six days, it was time to return home — a sweet feeling for Schaumburg firefighter Jim McIntyre.
“I’m looking forward to getting home to my family,” McIntyre said. “I have a wife that’s pregnant and a two-year-old daughter.”