PENINSULA - Just as the tsunami in Asia sent ripple effects across the world, so has Hurricane Katrina's destruction in the South, and once again the Peninsula is responding.
Two members of Pacific County Fire District No. 1, Capt. Rodney Harrington and EMT Patrick Smith, have answered the call for help and left for 30 days to lend a hand in the disaster zone.
On Sunday, Sept. 4, the crew and family of the fire district held a farewell breakfast sendoff for the two at Laurie's Homestead Breakfast House in Seaview, which sponsored the event.
"I'm so proud of the guys," said Chief Thomas O'Donohue, referring not only to the two who were on the way, but to the entire department. "The crews stepped up and filled the shifts."
"This is a family," said firefighter-paramedic David Allsup, which was apparent from the good-natured ribbing, the jokes, advice and thinly-veiled concern shown to not only the two who were leaving, but to their families as well.
Harrington has two small sons, Tucker, 4, and Grady, 2, and his wife Amy has been flooded with offers of help and support for the time he is away. The two high-energy, engaging boys scampered around the restaurant, receiving hugs and attention, obviously viewing all there as relatives.
Amy admits it will be difficult. "Not talking, that's going to be the hardest part," she said. This will be the longest time the couple has been separated.
"She's been supportive ever since I got into this line of work," said Harrington.
Briane Wiro, Smith's fiancee, was also at the breakfast. The couple plans on marrying in July. She too admits it will be difficult, but all members of the department have offered her support as well for the duration.
The two have been warned that the job will be some of the toughest work they have ever done, both physically and emotionally. They don't know where they will be assigned, whether New Orleans or the surrounding area. They will be working 12-hour shifts for 30 days straight, with no guarantees of good meals, showers, or beds to sleep in. Like those they are seeking to help, they will have only what they can carry.
"This is going to be arduous," O'Donohue warned them. He advised them to bring Vicks vapor rub to use under their noses, an old trick to help deal with the stench of death and decay.
He said he believes the experience will be challenging for the two, but not only will they learn from it, the department itself will benefit from the knowledge they gain in disaster relief.
Harrington and Smith will work together as a team for the time they are away. "There's no one else I'd rather work with," said Smith of his partner. Knowing the two will be kept together helps ease the concerns of their loved ones staying behind.
Just before the meal ended, Laurie Bredfield, owner of the restaurant rang the bell that hangs there, reserved for special announcements. To the applause of the other customers, she thanked the fire department for their work, not only on the Peninsula but for pulling together so Harrington and Smith could respond to the disaster.
She described her donation of the meal as "paying it forward," explaining such a disaster could easily happen here as well.
"It had to be done," she said, wanting to do something not only for those responding, but for those who support them as well. "It's a huge sacrifice," she said. "Sometimes it's a thankless job."