Charlotte fire Capt. Jeff Bright helped flood victims last week in Western North Carolina through the Fire Department's helo-aquatic rescue team, which pairs firefighters and emergency workers with the N.C. Army National Guard aviation unit. Bright spoke with Observer staff writer Kathryn Wellin.
Q. What was the most rewarding or interesting rescue you were involved in last week?
We got a call ... (of) seven people trapped in an area and the local emergency people couldn't make access to them.
The crew chief decided to do what's called a short haul. I was hanging on the end of a rope (from a Black Hawk helicopter) and they short-hauled me over to the area where the folks were.
Once there, we actually located a place to land the helicopter instead of short-hauling them out one at a time. We put them in the helicopter, which is a lot safer.
They had already made it through the storm and the water was actually still rising at their residence. They were living in a two-story house.
Q. How did those people react when they saw your helicopter coming to rescue them?
Typically people would be a little bit hesitant to be short-hauled or get on a rope of a helicopter, but they were very willing. They certainly didn't hesitate ...
Q. How many missions did you go on last week?
We flew about nine-and-a half or 10 hours and it was multiple missions.
We went on a variety of missions with rescues and did a lot of damage assessment as well.
We flew all the creeks, and tributaries and rivers and put GPS points on places that had severe damage, bridges washed out, places where people didn't have access ... We could plot them on maps and that would show the (N.C.) Emergency Management Division that road X was impassable.
Q. How is helo-aquatic rescue different than fighting fires?
There's really not a difference when it comes to rescue in general. Ultimately, we're there to do the same thing if we're fighting a fire or hanging off the end of a helicopter. We're there to save lives.
The reason a helicopter comes into play, for years people have been trained (that) helo is the last operation or the last chance.
But if the water's going too fast... the helo will give you the opportunity to get across the river in a safe manner instead of risking our folks.
Q. Do you think you'll be deployed locally for Hurricane Ivan?
We've not been told that we'll definitely go. ... But I feel sure if Ivan comes through like they've anticipated, the Charlotte Fire Department task force and the helo unit will be utilized.