Two men assisted efforts in South

October 03, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

Volunteer firefighter Jimmy Kimble of Fairplay had never been far from home. He had never been on an airplane.

So, when 1 million people fled New Orleans, that's where he went.

A mechanic at Emergency Vehicle Specialist, Kimble and a co-worker, Wayne Boward of Halfway, spent nearly two weeks replacing flat tires, switching out batteries and fixing equipment for fire and rescue crews assembled in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The men left on Labor Day, Kimble said.

Kimble, 26, left behind his wife, Melissa, and 11-month-old daughter, Hannah.

Boward, 39, left his wife, Staci, and sons, Ryan, 10, and Cody, 5.

"Truthfully, it was hard, but when I called home, it was harder," Kimble said during an interview at Emergency Vehicle Specialist, a Hagers-town company that specializes in ambulance and firetruck repair.


Boward said Montgomery County (Md.) Fire & Rescue Service Asst. Chief Steve Lohr called the company about 5 p.m. Sept. 4 looking for a crew to accompany a convoy of emergency workers that was leaving the next morning.

The men and their co-workers stuffed a trailer and company pickup truck tight with supplies, parts and tools. They were on the road about 12 hours later, Boward said.

"The whole way - 35 hours, no sleep," Boward said.

According to the men, Boward and Kimble made up the only mechanic crew on the west bank of New Orleans, where local emergency crews and personnel from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chicago, New York and other agencies set up in a nursing home. The men said they saw no residents in the city, but witnessed evidence of looting and storm damage and saw "X" marks painted on buildings checked for inhabitants by emergency workers.

"When we got there, the New Orleans Fire Department, what was left of it, they were staying in a nursing home," Boward said.

The city's firefighters had little but the clothes on their backs, Boward said.

"They lost, I believe, half their fleet," Boward said.

Lohr, who did not travel with the convoy, said Sunday the Montgomery County crews helped assume responsibility for cleaning up the city's fire stations. They even accompanied New Orleans firefighters to their homes to help, Lohr said.

The crews, which had hauled box trucks full of supplies, provided other teams from around the country with "everything to sustain ourselves until the cavalry arrived," Lohr said.

Boward and Kimble said conditions a week after the Aug. 29 storm were primitive at first. The nursing home had no air conditioning, and vehicles sat idle with flat tires and dead batteries because replacements were in short supply.

"I kept thinking, 'What were they doing for how many days before help got there?'" Boward said.

For the people of New Orleans, "it must have felt like the world fell out from under them," he said.

Eager to get vehicles back on the streets, he and Kimble changed some tires by hand, Boward said. They worked 14- and 15-hour days the first week, Boward said.

Danny Bowers, who shares ownership of EVS with Kimble's father, said the company missed the men while they were away, but he is proud they could help.

"If they would have called, we would scrounged up and sent another crew down there. That's kind of our business. We'll do whatever we have to do to get the job done," Bowers said.

For Boward and Kimble, the sacrifices of leaving families and children was offset by the chance to help. They both would go back, if asked.

That reaction is not uncommon where they work. Russ Ellis of AmeriClean, Inc., a neighboring business, stopped by EVS Thursday to discuss his travel plans with the men. He planned to leave Friday for Louisiana as part of a cleanup crew affiliated with a church.

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