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St. George Fire Dept. expanding high water rescue fleet, more equipment coming

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BATON ROUGE – For the last few years, the St. George Fire Department has been expanding its high water rescue fleet. It’s equipment that the fire department says is necessary, especially in south Louisiana where flooding is often a threat.

In 2016, the department had a couple of boats but primarily relied on private citizens for help. Through grant money, they have since acquired more boats and a high water truck. The department has also ordered a 35-passenger bus and fire pump to attach to one of the boats.

The boats are equipped with lights for night missions.

“I call it the St. George Navy now, we have 10 boats,” Chief Dustin Yates said. “We have inflatable boats, we have aluminum boats, we have a little bit of everything.”

The high water truck is a refurbished military vehicle that can navigate 50-inch deep water. That truck will be used in flooded areas to rescue people and bring them to dryer land.

“I hope we never have to use it,” Yates said. “The reality is that our flooding problem probably isn’t going away. As the agency out here that’s charged with handling the rescue efforts and any type of recovery efforts, we have to be prepared for them.”

The new boats have already been put to use. Last month, a man and his dog lost their way in some woods. Teams used the boats to get across the Amite River and make the rescue. A few of the boats were also used during the May 2021 flood.

Some of the grant money has also gone toward outfitting first responders for rescues. It’s also being used for the Citizen Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

“We have such a high rate of volunteerism in this state we want to capture that on a local level,” Yates said. “We get inundated with phone calls throughout these events with people wanting to help. So much of what we do here can be handled with groups like that.”

The St. George Fire Department has also recently developed, trained, and certified the largest Incident Management Team in Louisiana. The team can manage anything from a school fair, to a concert, flood event, or fire event.

“Anything that needs to allocate the correct resources, anything that deals with logistics, anything that deals with the potential to emergency response — we handle it.”

During emergency situations, there is sometimes a need for a temporary shelter. SGFD is currently working to organize a list of locations that can be used as such. Anyone interested in opening up their facility for a use like this should contact the fire department.

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