COLUMBIA — On Wednesday morning, Missouri Task Force 1 will receive a thank-you gift: a new water heater.
Missouri Task Force 1 is one of 28 urban search and rescue teams in the country that receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The volunteer task force is based in Columbia and is attached to the Boone County Fire Protection District. It provides support to areas affected by disasters both locally and nationally.
When the task force members hit the ground at disaster sites, they arrive self-contained. Due to the damage caused by the situations they encounter, they typically have no established infrastructure.
That can include basic amenities like hot water. The task force usually has several portable water heaters that it takes on missions to places like ground zero in New York, New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and most recently Joplin in the aftermath of a tornado.
Often, these missions can extend for weeks. During that time, these heaters provide all the hot water the task force uses for routine activities like showering and cleaning.
Earlier this year, the task force brought two water heaters to Air and Water Solutions in Columbia for maintenance. Roger Burke, the operations manager, was able to fix one of the water heaters just days before it was needed in Joplin. The company did the work for free, Burke said.
However, workers were unable to fix the other water heater. Burke took it upon himself to find a new one.
"Fixing one made me feel good," Burke said. "Getting the second one made me feel even better."
"It wasn't hard to convince them," Burke said.
Worth $5,000, the liquid propane heater was assembled in a custom-built metal box that will protect it and allow it to be easily transported — even on an airplane, Burke said.
The unit also will serve as a template for other task forces around the country as they find themselves needing to replace old equipment.
Burke said his motivation was to try to give something back to the task force for the work its members have done across the country.
"These people live here in the community," Burke said. "They are the true heroes."
The presentation of the water heater will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Fire District headquarters.