Brooke EMA leader talks flood response

Bob Fowler, Brooke County director of emergency management, discussed his part in responding to flooding in Nicholas County, W.Va., and in Follansbee at a Business After Hours event held in honor of local first responders at The Station Grille. Mullenbach Funeral Home and Wellsburg Tire and Collision sponsored the event. — Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — The Brooke County director of emergency management on Thursday discussed efforts in responding to flooding in both Southern West Virginia and Follansbee this summer.

EMA Director Bob Fowler joined other local first responders as special guests at a Business After Hours event held by the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce at The Station Grille and sponsored by Mullenbach Funeral Home and Wellsburg Tire and Collision.

Members also heard from David Klick, the chamber’s new president, who said as the owner of a rental unit that flooded in Follansbee said he was impressed by the area firefghters who turned out to help those affected by the deluge.

“There were firefighters from Wellsburg, Franklin (Community), Beech Bottom and other departments along with those from Follansbee and other first responders,” he said.

Fowler said good collaboration among area emergency departments and his staff, including Assistant EMA Directors Andy Nickerson and John Williams, and the support of the Brooke County Commission allowed him to take ambulance personnel members to Nicholas County when it was flooded in June.

Fowler said he and staff members were awestruck by the devastation there, with 250 homes destroyed and numerous roads left unnavigable. He said the county’s emergency management director had been hired three weeks before the flood and, lacking experience, resigned, so Fowler was asked to serve as interim director.

He said tasks performed by the Brooke County staff, which included two paramedics and four emergency medical technicians, were assisting local emergency crews in administering tetanus shots at disaster recovery centers established by the National Guard and through its critical incident stress management team, and providing counseling and information to those affected by flooding.

Fowler said volunteers have come from various parts of the U.S. to help. Among them was Team Rubicon, a group of veterans that has been helping to remove debris, water-soaked rugs, insulation and other items, mud and even trees, from homes.

The Brooke County personnel put in long days that began at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. and often ended as late as 2 a.m., Fowler said.

He said he’d just returned home, after two trips to Southern West Virginia, when he received news that Follansbee had been flooded on July 30. The deluge was triggered by about about 5 inches of rainfall within 30 minutes and heavy debris in Allegheny Creek and other factors.

He said serving the flooded southern communities had taught the Brooke County personnel how to better respond to disasters at home. He said ambulance staff member Amy Nickerson had taken 50 to 70 pages of notes on the experience.

“We implemented a lot of those things in Follansbee and it helped us tremendously,” he said.

Fowler said fortunately the damage in Follansbee wasn’t as drastic, but that also meant the flood’s victims didn’t qualify for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While about 120 houses were flooded and the city assumed at least $500,000 in cleanup costs, the damage didn’t result in the destruction of at least 50 homes and expenses didn’t reach about $2.7 million, both criteria for FEMA aid.

Fortunately, businesses, churches and community members donated to a flood relief fund set up by Follansbee Presbyterian Church, he said. More than $100,000 was raised and distributed in the amount of $600, $700 or $800, depending on their category and the extent of their damage.

He acknowledged the amounts are modest compared to the losses faced by many.

Follansbee and Brooke County officials continue to seek federal and state assistance for recovery efforts and measures to prevent future flooding.

Fowler noted a long-term recovery team comprised of representatives of nonprofit groups and churches provided clothing and used appliances in good condition.

“If anything good came out of this, it was the wonderful friends we made,” he said. “It brought so many people working together to help neighbors.”

Before introducing Fowler, Klick told chamber members he’s looking forward to involving more businesses in the chamber’s efforts to improve the city’s business community and overall quality of life.

He said there are plans for more social events and the return of a chamber dinner with a guest speaker.

“We’re all passionate about our city of Wellsburg. If you want to start something or get involved in something, come to our meetings,” Klick said.

The chamber’s next meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Drover’s Inn.

In addition to Klick, who is vice president of commercial banking for WesBanco, the chamber’s board includes Brian Tennant, Donna Conley, Joe Mullenbach, Nanci Walker, Gerry Henwood and past President Richard Krisak.

Jacie Ridgely, the chamber’s executive director, “I’m very excited we have this new board. They are an energetic group and want to make this chamber of commerce an exciting group to belong to.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)


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