A firefighter with the Centennial Fire District (CFD) is hopeful that firefighting will bring him across state lines again in the future after his experience down south.
CFD firefighter Michael Tschida, along with Spring Lake Park Mounds View Blaine (SBM) firefighters Derek Authier and Anthony Scavo, were three of the 22 firefighters from nine departments across the state of Minnesota who volunteered to travel to Louisiana to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Ida.
“Minnesota firefighters are known for stepping up in critical times and putting their lives on the line to save others. It doesn't matter if it's the person down the street, a complete stranger, another fire department or another community that's all the way across the country, none of that matters,” said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Amanda Swenson. “You ask for help, Minnesota firefighters are there to help and come running, and that's exactly what happened (last month) when Louisiana officials requested firefighters from around the country to help.”
When Hurricane Ida made landfall on Aug. 26, Louisiana officials asked for help through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). EMAC is a mutual aid agreement between all 50 states. A requesting state asks for resources (people, equipment, etc.) based on its needs. Agencies in other states with those resources can respond to those requests. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DPS-HSEM) coordinates the state’s EMAC requests.
Gov. Tim Walz approved the 18-day mission for the firefighters, who volunteered from nine departments across the state. Many firefighters on the mission had to take personal time from their day jobs, as most of them are volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters.
“I'm really proud of their selfless service and willingness to step up and help the citizens of Louisiana,” Swenson said.
Tschida will celebrate 17 years of service with CFD in February. Although he has several years of experience under his belt, this was his first mission across state lines. “I’ve always wanted to get out and about,” he explained.
So, when Tschida saw an email from CFD/SBM Chief Charlie Smith, he immediately jumped at the opportunity. Tscida, Authier and Scavo all hopped in the car and made the approximately 20-hour drive to Louisiana. Although Tscida and Scavo had briefly met, the car ride, and their experience as a whole, served as a bonding experience for the firefighters from departments who have a newly established partnership.
“It was great. I definitely consider them my friends by now,” Tschida said.
The firefighters’ first mission was to backfill fire stations throughout the state, giving local firefighters a break so they could tend to their own families and homes and take care of other personal needs. Other tasks included clearing debris, distribution of tarps and water and just checking on residents.
One of the firefighters from a neighboring agency recalled a situation where he went up to see how he could assist a resident who had lost everything. He asked the woman, “What do you need?” and she said, “I just need a hug.” The firefighter than hugged the woman for 10 minutes and just let her cry.
Tschida said one of the main challenges while they were there was adjusting to the heat and humidity. “We were constantly drinking water and sweating it all out,” he recalled.
During the mission, another storm, Hurricane Nicholas, struck. “That was probably the most rain I have ever seen,” Tschida said. “It's not like around here where you just get a downpour for 10-15 minutes, this was hours of a downpour. Luckily, we were at a fire station at that time so we had a nice concrete building, but the guys back at camp had to hide it out in the tents and then they got called out to another building.”
The firemen set up their base of operations at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, about 60 miles west of New Orleans. They shared a “tent farm" — a collection of 22-person tents with air conditioning, lights and outlets – with other firefighters, police, EMS and National Guard from around the nation.
For many of the firemen, it was their first time dealing with the heat and humidity, poisonous snakes, alligators and fire ants.
The experience made Tschida really appreciate what fire crews have access to here, as the equipment at the fire stations in Louisiana was very different.
If the opportunity ever arises again, Tschida will likely be one of the first firefighters to volunteer. “This was the first time (I’ve done a mission like this one), and hopefully it won’t be my last,” Tschida said.
Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.