COLUMBIA — Fire District Battalion Chief and Task Force leader Chuck Leake has been a member of Task Force 1 since its creation. He was deployed to Ground Zero after 9/11, to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Joplin after last year's tornado.
But last week in New York after "Superstorm" Sandy, Leake saw something he had never seen before.
"When you look at the Jersey shore ... imagine all that sand is no longer on the beach, but it's two or three blocks in," he said. "What we experience here in Missouri of seven, eight, nine-foot snow drifts, these were piles of sand ... metric tons of sand filling these streets."
Shortly before 2:30 p.m., the 12-vehicle convoy of Missouri Task Force 1 rolled into the loading zone at the Boone County Fire Protection District's headquarters, concluding a nine-day mission.
Fire District Chief Scott Olsen stood outside the headquarters, welcoming the 80 Task Force members home as they headed inside for their debriefing, while Fire District crews began unloading the equipment.
Task Force 1, a division of the Fire District, was activated early last week to provide emergency services for areas affected by superstorm Sandy. Its mission included search-and-rescue and humanitarian missions in Long Beach, Long Island and Freeport, Lawrence and Ocean View, N.Y.
Besides the damage from the storm surge, a substantial amount of damage came from winds knocking down tree limbs onto power lines, cutting electricity.
"They were left on their own in the dark for a while," Leake said.
Beyond going from door to door to determine the safety of people in the affected areas, Task Force members also handed out food and water, Leake said.
The efforts of Task Force 1 included telling people where they could receive food, shelter and medical care but also where they could refill their prescriptions, Task Force leader and nine-year task force veteran Randy Sanders said.
"We were just trying to give them directions and support and to let them know that we were there to help them and that there were more people coming behind us," Sanders said. "We believe we made a significant difference."
"People were very warm and friendly," he said. "When you take a place that has no electric, no water, no heat, no phones and no food and then they offered us what they did have because we were out there helping them .. it was very humbling. We were very proud to be there."
After their debriefing and a quick medical check, Task Force members headed to the front lobby of the Fire District to sign out, collect the keys to their personal vehicles and pick up a boxed meal before heading out the door and on their way home.
"We are very proud that Missouri Task Force 1 was able to represent the state of Missouri so well for the second time" in New York, Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp said.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.