10/20/05 — Back from the Gulf

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Back from the Gulf

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 20, 2005 1:49 PM

Two Goldsboro firefighters who went to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina did not fight any fires or rescue any hurricane victims -- but they did assist hundreds of evacuees at an Alabama shelter.

Lt. Rob Loreman and Firefighter Jourdon Pope worked 12-hours days for about three weeks in reuniting families and helping victims.

"For the things we did, knowing in my heart we were helping someone, it was worth it," Pope said. "After doing it and helping the victims, it was well worth it."

"It was worthwhile for us to do it," Loreman said, "but I think our skills could have been a bigger asset. We made a difference, but we might have made a bigger difference if we had been doing other stuff."

Loreman and Pope flew from Kinston on Sept. 8 to Atlanta. Their Federal Emergency Management Agency training was supposed to be two days, but it lasted six. They learned to be "FEMA-flexible," as Loreman put it. They then went to a joint field office in Montgomery, Ala., where they trained for a half-day. They were deployed to Birmingham, Ala., which is about 270 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

Loreman and Pope worked with a husband-and-wife team from Ludlow, Mass. He was a firefighter, and she was a paramedic. The Goldsboro pair said they bonded well with them and a FEMA official.

"Working together in 12-to-14-hour days tends to do that," Loreman said.

They worked at an old hospital the government had bought and converted into a temporary living facility. The building housed up to 300 people in 170 rooms.

Loreman said the four volunteers helped set up the building, then processed the evacuees, got them in a room, provided medical care and counseling, tried to meet their needs and listened to their stories.

The quartet was featured in a news clip on a Birmingham television station after they reunited a man who was feared dead in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with his family who had fled to Houston.

The man had stayed behind after his family left. He was rescued from his submerged home and taken to Charlotte. He hitchhiked to Birmingham, where he was met by a minister. Pope said the man was dehydrated and needed food. He was brought to the shelter. The man's wife thought her husband had died because their house was under water. But Loreman said the man called his family in Houston and then was taken to the airport, where he met the pilot, and was buckled in a seat for a flight to Texas.

"That made the whole 30 days away from my family worthwhile," Loreman said.

That was "very heart-warming," Pope said. "...That film clip showed it all."

Another man will be featured on The Discovery Channel for his roof-top rescue, Loreman said. Other couples were reunited after the storm.

"It was interesting to see that," Loreman said, "being away from the wife and kids and then being reunited."

About 90 percent of the evacuees were from New Orleans. The others came from the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coast.

Pope said the volunteers interviewed the evacuees to make sure they were qualified for a room and then read them the rules. He said he was in charge of room assignments and room keys.

"It was an easy process," Pope said. "The people knew when they came to us, we would get it done. ... That made you feel good."

Both Goldsboro firefighters said they were glad to get home, see their families again and get back to work on their regular shifts.