North Idahoans answer Florida’s call for help

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  • Courtesy photo Zachary Rogers, a 2008 Post Falls High graduate who is serving with a Mayport, Fla.-based Navy helicopter squadron, is among those with local ties who plan to serve with the Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts.

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    Coeur d’Alene Fire Capt. Jeff Sells and his K-9 companion Otis have been deployed to Georgia to assist with search operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Courtesy photo

  • Courtesy photo Zachary Rogers, a 2008 Post Falls High graduate who is serving with a Mayport, Fla.-based Navy helicopter squadron, is among those with local ties who plan to serve with the Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts.

  • 1

    Coeur d’Alene Fire Capt. Jeff Sells and his K-9 companion Otis have been deployed to Georgia to assist with search operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Courtesy photo

Helping others through serving his country is why Zachary Rogers joined the Navy.

But little did the 2008 Post Falls High graduate know such opportunity would blow onto his doorstep.

Rogers, who is serving with a Mayport, Fla.-based Navy helicopter squadron and is an aviation search and rescue swimmer, is among those with local ties expected to be called to action in the Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts in Florida and Georgia.

"This is why I joined," Rogers said on Monday. "I wanted to be a helping hand to others. I'm pretty excited we are here and this is our chance to help."

Rogers said he's on standby to assist and could be called at any time.

He said his squadron could serve by delivering supplies, searching for victims and assessing damage.

On a personal level, Rogers and his family live in Jacksonville, which has had severe flooding, but his home is on higher ground.

"The biggest issue is flooding in the downtown area," he said. "Water is up to the windows of cars. There will be flooding for some time, along with downed power lines and trees."

Meanwhile, Coeur d'Alene Fire Capt. Jeff Sells and his Labrador retriever, Otis, have been deployed to the Middle Georgia area as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's urban search and rescue program based in Pierce County, Wash. Otis helps find victims.

"Jeff has been deployed to a staging base while FEMA determines where the task force needs to go," said Bill Palmer, a Pierce County employee. "(The task force) is just a small part of the overall effort, but is proud to be there and helping our fellow Americans."

Sells and Otis are part of five K-9 teams that are deployed with Washington Task Force 1. The team had been put on notice to assist with Hurricane Harvey in Texas when it received the call for Irma.

The K-9 teams also participated in the mudslide in Oso, Wash.

Sells' wife, Jonell, said it can be stressful when Jeff is called to action, but there's also comfort in knowing he's performing a mission he and Otis are trained to do.

"Jeff is doing what he loves," she said.

Coeur d'Alene Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel said having a K-9 rescue team be a part of a federal deployment is "huge" for the department.

"It is what they have trained hard to do and, although we wish this disaster didn't happen, they stand ready to assist and utilize this training," Gabriel said. "It also gives our members valuable experience that they can bring back and enhance our local operations."

Other agencies, including the Greater Inland Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross, and Avista Utilities, are also assisting with the Hurricane Irma efforts.

The local Red Cross has deployed 11 volunteers to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Of those, one, Bobbi Putman, is from North Idaho.

"She is driving one of our emergency response vehicles (ERVs) with a Spokane-based volunteer across the country to Florida," said Megan Snow, the chapter's executive director.

The nonprofit has activated nearly 100 ERVs nationwide in response to Irma. They are used to deliver meals and supplies in neighborhoods to residents working on clean-up.

Avista on Sunday sent 18 employees and 15 vehicles consisting of line crews and other personnel to Macon, Ga., to assist in electrical distribution infrastructure needed after Irma.

Two Avista crews from Spokane and a crew from Coeur d’Alene will travel more than 2,400 miles to the hurricane zone. They are expected to arrive there later this week. In a mutual assistance situation, the utility making the request pays for the crews.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Irma," said Heather Rosentrater, Avista's vice president of operations. "When disaster strikes we see utilities come together to support each other. We’re proud to play a role in this mutual-assistance effort and are committed to helping restore power to those impacted by Hurricane Irma as quickly and as safely as we can.

"We’ve faced devastating storms in our own service area and received mutual assistance from other utilities. Now we have the opportunity to extend this same support."

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