Harlan City Fire Department responds to floods

Published 11:00 am Monday, August 8, 2022

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Harlan County escaped the worst of the recent flooding that has caused massive destruction throughout southeast Kentucky. This left many of Harlan County’s emergency responders with the option to head to neighboring areas to assist those dealing with the worst of the flooding.

Harlan City Fire Department Assistant Chief James Billings gave a rundown on the department’s participation in the rescue efforts.

“We got a call around 8:10 a.m. the morning of the flood from Emergency Management Director (David McGill) asking if we could assemble a team to go help with rescue situations over in Whitesburg and Isom area,” Billings said. “We never made it to Isom.”

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Billings explained the situation was so bad in Whitesburg, that the team never got the chance to go to other areas.

“It was horrible,” Billings said. “We did water rescues throughout the day.”

Billings said the Harlan team was paired with Bell County responders.

“Bell County Rescue Squad was assigned along with us as a swift water group,” Billings said. “We all traveled together. We were assigned a couple of Kentucky State Police Troopers who took us over to different areas.”

Billings pointed out the Kentucky State Police Troopers were the only agency on-site with communications capabilities.

“We didn’t have any communications,” Billings said. “The Kentucky State Police were the only ones whose radios were working. We were working blind.”

Billings talked about the damage he witnessed in the flooded city.

“It was horrible,” Billings said. “Houses were ripped from their foundations. Cars were crushed. A lot of people are left homeless. It’s very sad.”

Billings recalled an encounter with a woman they had been sent to assist.

“We were sent to one lady – I can’t remember the name of the road – with KSP to do a well-being check on her,” Billings said. “We had to wade through about two feet of mud to get to her house.”

Billings mentioned when he knocked on the door, the team was aware the woman may be a possible DOA (Deceased on Arrival).

“I knocked on the door,” Billings said. “She answered, ‘give me just a minute, I’m handicapped.”

Billings announced who he was, telling the woman they were there to check on her. He said he and the Troopers all breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the woman’s voice.

“I asked her if we could get her anything,” Billings said. “She said get me some electricity, some air conditioning, and some water, and I’ll be fine.”

According to Billings, the crew worked from approximately 10 a.m. until shortly after 7 p.m. that day.

Billings said the Harlan City Fire Department has also assisted by delivering water and supplies to the impacted area.