North Dakota Firefighters return from Hurricane Ida support mission

Eric Jensen
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

NORTH DAKOTA . – A group of 15 firefighters from the Williston, Williston Rural, Bismarck Rural and Dickinson Fire Departments returned today after two weeks supporting Hurricane Ida recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Gov. Doug Burgum this month approved an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request from the state of Louisiana, allowing North Dakota’s firefighters to assist with structural fire suppression missions there. After traveling more than 1,800 miles, the first North Dakota team began its mission earlier this month by being assigned to the volunteer fire department in Lockport, Louisiana, south of Baton Rouge. While there, the team responded to carbon monoxide calls, fire alarms and structure fires. They also assisted local communities with tree clean-up and debris removal and unloading supply trailers.

A second team departed Williston, North Dakota, three days later and, combined with a crew from Dickinson Fire Department, traveled to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) basecamp in Baton Rouge. The team was assigned to the Schriever Fire Department, about 80 miles south of Baton Rouge and west of Lockport.

“Thank you to all the members of the two North Dakota teams. We are beyond proud of what they have done and are thankful for the partnerships created,” said Williston Fire Chief Matt Clark. “This was an incredible effort by all parties involved and we are happy to welcome them home.”

From left to right, Captain Justin Champion embraces his wife, Jessica, while FF/EMT Colton Gutknecht enthusiastically hugs fellow FF/EMT Hunter Voss upon their return from Louisiana.
Lydia Citta, of the Bismarck Rural Fire Department, holds two puppies she helped rescue during an emergency call in Louisiana.
Lockport resident Missy Lirette take a group photo with the Williston and Williston Rural Fire Department crew. Lirette has family and friendship ties to North Dakota.

Before traveling back to North Dakota, the first team of firefighters was able to visit with a long-time Lockport resident with family and friendship ties to North Dakota. Missy Lirette and her husband evacuated for Hurricane Ida. When she returned home on Saturday and heard the team might still be in town, Lirette rushed to the Lockport Volunteer Fire Department to meet them and take some pictures with the team.

“My heart almost exploded with joy at getting to meet them and thank them for helping our community," Lirette said. "They are wonderful people [and] they are all wearing Lockport Volunteer Fire Department shirts today. Thank you, North Dakota for coming to Louisiana’s rescue."

North Dakota’s volunteer firefighter team was assembled after sourcing and coordination through the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (DES). North Dakota has a long history of providing EMAC support to other states. Since 2005, DES staff have supported response agencies through EMAC during disaster events in six locations, including: Louisiana (2005 hurricane), Mississippi (2011 flooding), Puerto Rico (2017 hurricane), Florida (2017 hurricane), Hawaii (2018 volcano), Oklahoma (2019 flooding/tornadoes) and, most recently, Oregon (2020 wildfires).

An EMAC is an emergency response mechanism that allows states to send personnel, equipment and commodities to assist with response and recovery efforts in other states.

“Collaborating with other states through the EMAC process helps us to bolster public safety across the nation,” said North Dakota Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz. “We thank our North Dakota firefighters who eagerly answered the call to help others in need. Typically, disaster response requires extra hours working on the ground and, in this case, time away from home. Thank you to all our firefighters for their sacrifice and commitment to serve.”

“I could not be prouder of the work the North Dakota teams have accomplished during this mission. I would like to say thank you to all the volunteers for their hard work, dedication and sacrifices made while being deployed,” said Bismarck Rural Fire Chief Dustin Theurer. “We are happy to welcome these crews home and are glad everyone is home safe and sound.”