Opelika Fire Department offers Baldwin County assistance

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Photo courtesy of Lee County Emergency Management Agency

By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Hurricane Sally made landfall two weeks ago, changing the lives of those who lived along its destructive path.

Baldwin County was one of the unfortunate areas to have been hit, and hit hard, by the hurricane.

Lee County suffered its own weather incident in 2019 when tornadoes ripped through Beauregard and Smiths Station. Baldwin County was one of the surrounding areas to offer help during that time.

Reminiscent of that aid, Lee County returned the favor and sent help of its own for the hurricane relief response.

The Opelika Fire Department was one of the local groups to spend a few days in Baldwin County, doing what it could to return some normalcy to residents.

Eight Opelika Fire Department employees left Lee County in its own hands and on Sept. 17 made the trek to Baldwin County, said Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather.

“People that work in public safety, people that volunteer in disaster situations, it’s not the pay, it’s the fact that you’re helping out a fellow person,” Prather said. “Somebody that’s in need of help.”

Prather said that the county could only send eight because there was concern that Hurricane Sally might still affect Lee County.

“As we got going down toward, into Baldwin County, off the interstate, then we started seeing the severity of what lay ahead of us,” Prather said. “We started seeing a lot of trees down, power lines down and at that point in time, we really could see what the storm had done to the area.”

The Auburn Department sent four response members to join those in the Opelika Fire Department and the group stayed in Baldwin County two days.

“Mainly we were utilized in Baldwin County itself [rather than down near the beach],” Prather said. “It was just like being out in Lee County, like being out in Beauregard a couple years ago … that’s where the main part of our mission was.”

The group helped clear downed trees and power lines, and worked with those directly  affected.

“We were helping open up roads so that our emergency vehicles could respond to these areas,” Prather said. “And then opening up some driveways for people who had medical problems. We had a cancer patient who was due for a chemo treatment but they couldn’t get our of their driveway because they had trees down.”

There was also the matter of making house calls.

“One lady had not been heard from since before the storm,” he said. “She had a three-month-old and three or four other children with her and nobody had heard from her. So we trudged back down through the woods and her driveway was completely blocked and we made contact with her and checked on her and the family.

“She didn’t want to leave at that time, she was waiting on somebody, a friend, that she could stay with. So we gave her what water we had on us and gave her our numbers in case she needed to get out. And then passed on her number and location to the Baldwin County EMA.”

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