PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC (WIS) - The Columbia Fire Department is helping residents of Pawleys Island get to safer ground as the area prepares for potentially historic flooding.
The department is a member of a mutual assistance program for fire departments across the state and received orders to deploy to Pawleys Island on Sunday after local first responders requested the additional aid.
The department sent 15 members along with an array of boats and trucks to help facilitate water rescues as the Waccamaw River is expected to rise dramatically beginning Tuesday night.
“With us, we have a team of 15 so that gives us three crews of four on each boat and then from there we have a logistics specialist who handles all of our equipment and two command staff,” Daniel McManus, chief of special operations, said.
On Monday, the department attended a series of meetings and familiarized itself with the area. Tuesday provided time for federal, state and local first responders to rest up ahead of what is expected to be a long night.
“We get to see people when they’re having some of the worst times of their lives, but it’s rewarding to be able to a have a positive impact on their community and them,” Ken Pagurek, a task force leader with the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Unit, said.
In 2015, hundreds of firefighters from around the state converged on Columbia to aid in rescue and relief efforts following the catastrophic flooding. Now, the Columbia Fire Department sees the opportunity as a way to say thank you and return the favor.
“It’s nice to be able to say they came to our aid when we needed them and now we’re able to be here to help them in their time of need,” McManus said.
As the river begins rising, the biggest area of concern for the department is U.S. 17, which connects Georgetown and Pawleys Island. While first responders aren’t considered about the bridge itself, McManus said the approaches on the east side of the bridge could be washed out due to the volume of water headed downstream.
“They’ve placed bladders, which are about a quarter mile long and filled with water, along with part of that swampy stretch we fear could be washed out,” McManus said. “They are designed to keep some of the water and debris off the road which ideally will minimize the repairs needed at the end of all of this.”
Pawleys Island is not under a mandatory evacuation order and many residents could be found riding bikes or golfing Tuesday afternoon. With potentially historic flood levels on the horizon, McManus hopes residents use their best judgment.
“There are a lot of elderly people who live here and there are also a lot of people who have been here for generations or more and they don’t want to leave their property and we don’t fault them for that,” McManus said. “We just want people to be safe and call us if they need our help.”
The department said it plans to keep its members in Pawleys Island until at least Sunday.