Rescue team takes Blackhawk for hurricane assistance

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

By Nathan Hardin Capt. Joshua Johnson said good-bye to his 17-month-old daughter for the second time Saturday afternoon before his team’s Blackhawk helicopter left for Wilmington to begin providing rescue assistance after Hurricane Irene. “If they tell us to take off in the morning (instead of tonight), I’ll just have to stay here,” Johnson said. “I can’t say bye three times today.” Johnson, a China Grove resident, is one of four NCHART, North Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, members who left Saturday afternoon for the coast. The four team members paired with the Army National Guard to provide rescue assistance via Blackhawk helicopter missions after Hurricane Irene. The NCHART team was made up of Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Rogers, Capt. Joshua Johnson, Bobby Bryson and Sammy Willis, a safety instructor at Gaston College. The team was initially scheduled to leave the National Guard facility near Rowan County Airport at 10 a.m. Saturday, but the storm slowed as it hit land and the team was forced to delay take-off. After the delay, Johnson’s wife, Brooke, brought their daughter to see the Blackhawk her husband would soon take to the coast. The NCHART team plans to primarily focus on structural rescues, involving vehicles, rooftops and inside homes. Despite lifting off at 7 p.m. Saturday, the team sat in the flight operations building at 5 p.m. unsure if they would get the chance to help. “We’re just antsy,” Johnson said. “We just want to go, but it has to be safe for us to participate.” Tim Rogers, who has been doing missions with NCHART since 1992, said the period before getting the call for assistance is “patiently impatient.” “I just want to get in the game,” Rogers said. “We want to be helping someone. We really don’t like sitting on the bench.” Rogers said the team plays out how scenarios might go, while they wait for the OK for deployment. “As the day progresses the conversation becomes more serious,” he said. “We have colleagues down there. We’re thinking about them.” The Charlotte Fire Department sent a swift water rescue team down Saturday afternoon. The 18-member team arrived in Rocky Mount around 7:30 p.m. Another swift water rescue team was waiting as a reserve in Charlotte Saturday evening. Rogers said the training to be an NCHART member is what makes them so valuable in natural disaster situations. According to Rogers, NCHART applicants must have 400-500 hours of training before even being considered. Once being selected, members train about 20 hours each quarter in different environments around the state. “We duplicate everything we think we might encounter,” Rogers said. “We feel like we’re very capable to do what we need to do.” But Rogers said doing rescue missions and training for possible situations puts pressure on family life. “We’re leaving for days at a time,” he said. Joshua Johnson’s wife, Brooke, said she’s praying for her husband’s safety, but said she is supportive. “I know they’re doing the right thing,” she said. “It’s their calling. You just have to be supportive.”