COLUMBIA — Small children held neon signs saying “Welcome Home, Daddy!” and “Missed You, Dad!!” at the Boone County Fire Protection District Building on Monday.
They and other family members were there to greet their loved ones, members of Missouri Task Force 1 who were returning after 11 days away volunteering aid to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. Children giggled and jumped up and down as a bus and a fleet of semi trucks pulled into view.
The 35 personnel for Missouri Task Force 1 had been in Georgia and North Carolina assisting first responders in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the Category 5 storm that slammed the Southeastern coast. The eight volunteer linemen that Columbia's Water & Light Department sent to Jacksonville, Florida, returned Sunday.
On Monday, Missouri Task Force 1 logistics specialist Jeremy Pepin stood next to a stack of DVDs he'd watched during the 22-hour drive home as he waited Monday to fill out paperwork before leaving.
Pepin said he was grateful for the kindness and generosity he received from those affected by the disaster.
“The people were amazing. Even though they were having a tough time and all that, they took us in and supported us," Pepin said. "It was incredible.”
He remembered when the crew had to sleep in a church parking lot one night in Nakina, North Carolina. Pepin said that not only were they welcomed with open arms, but the pastor cooked them dinner and came back to make breakfast the next morning.
“It was some of the best food I ever had,” Pepin said.
Linemen return home
Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for Water & Light, said the eight linemen who went to Jacksonville worked to restore power to thousands, fixing fallen poles and restringing overhead lines that had been damaged by the powerful winds.
Kacprowicz said the linemen didn't know how long they'd be gone and where they'd be going before they left. The combination of flood water and electricity makes the job risky.
“Most people don’t think about how dangerous linemen’s jobs are,” Kacprowicz said. “You think about police and firefighters going into dangerous situations, but linemen everyday are working in incredibly dangerous situations, especially when there’s been storm damage.”
Kacprowicz said the men worked 17-hour shifts, not including the time it took to commute to affected areas. She commended the volunteers for the hard work they put in to help those in need.
“From my observations over 20 years, the linemen are incredibly dedicated to their service,” Kacprowicz said.
After arriving on Monday, the Missouri Task Force 1 members had a brief meeting and a short celebration of a job well done. But after reuniting with their families, everyone was just happy to go home.
Supervising editor is Kelsi Anderson.