Marty Pitts and Ricky Tidwell use a search camera during training at a collapsed house in May of 2009. Shortly after 9/11 the Madison Fire Department received a grant from the Department of Homeland Security that provided resources for training above and beyond the requirements of their regular work. They were also able to purchase new equipment, including the telescopic search camera, and they continue to train for and respond to emergency disasters.

Archived Story

Firefighter reflects on effects of 9/11

Published 3:30pm Monday, September 10, 2012

BY LORETTA GILLESPIE / FOR THE RECORD

For Capt. Stacy Haraway of the Madison Fire Department, Sept. 11, 2001, seemed like an unthinkable nightmare.

“I was off that day, but when I heard what had happened, I went by the station,” Haraway said. “Everyone was quiet. They sat and watched in disbelief. No one ever thought anything like that could happen in this country.”

Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, the Madison Fire Department received a grant from the Department of Homeland Security that provided resources for training above and beyond the requirements of their regular jobs. They were also able to purchase new equipment, including a telescopic camera used for locating people buried under rubble.

Of the nine teams in Alabama who received the educational grants, North Alabama was the first to have a team up and running. Alabama Heavy Rescue Team 1 consists of 30 employees who voluntarily took extra hands-on training.

Since completing the course, the team has responded here both locally and regionally in the southeast. They were one of the first teams on the scene when tornadic storms struck Cullman on April 27 last year.

“We had been called to Hanceville early that morning,” Haraway said. “We were on our way back when we saw the tornado heading toward downtown Cullman. Because we were so close by, we were there less that five minutes after it was over.”

The Heavy Rescue Team was loaded with the necessary equipment needed to help dig people out of buildings.

Their training had prepared them well for such emergencies. “We had trained in Giles County, Tennessee in a spot where they were widening the highway. They let us burn and collapse houses for use in our training exercises,” Haraway said.

Before April 27, they used their expertise disaster preparedness after Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina.

Even with their training, Capt. Haraway admitted nothing had prepared the team for recovering the bodies of victims following Katrina. “No training can really prepare anyone for that,” Haraway said.

They were there for 14 days and nights. “That was the worst thing any of us had ever seen,” Haraway said.

The Madison Fire Department has a workforce of 69 people and receives approximately 3,500 calls a year.

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