KETTERING, Ohio - While their fellow Americans were casting their votes on Election Day, members of Ohio Task Force One were preparing to return home from their East Coast deployment mission that aided victims of Hurricane Sandy.
About 80 members of OTF1 arrived safe and sound at their Kettering headquarters Wednesday. The task force's convoy left Ohio for New Jersey on Oct. 29. Upon arrival, its members participated in Urban Search and Rescue missions in one of the hardest-hit places on the coast - Seaside Heights, N.J. They also helped with humanitarian relief efforts in New York.
"A lot of the houses were removed from their foundation, literally in the middle of the streets," said Gene Thomas, a Search Team manager and Fairborn firefighter. "A lot of people without electric and water. A lot of people not able to get fuel anywhere to get to work or to escape to someplace to get aid."
Thomas said that the amount of sand blown into the streets and onto houses was similar to seeing snow in a snowstorm.
Lt. Patrick Ricketts of the Fairborn Fire Department and a ground support and medical specialist for the task force recalled what he witnessed in the southern area of Brooklyn.
"In talking to people that lived in the neighborhood, their sanitation trucks had been down there twice and three times. It didn't even look like they had made a dent in anything yet," he said.
Randall Hawkins, 58, a logistics specialist, passed out food and water and was amazed by the response of the victims, many of whom denied themselves supplies out of concern for there being enough for their neighbors.
"That was amazing that people were so concerned about their neighbors, that they were just barely getting by themselves," Hawkins said.
"The people were very thankful and appreciative," said Kevin Shea, a logistics specialist and Dayton firefighter.
Like many of the deployed task force members, Hawkins was not able to vote in person in his precinct on Tuesday. Despite the disappointment, he and the other task force members felt good that they were helping others.
"In 40 years of voting, this is the first time I have ever missed," Hawkins said. "This is my job. This is what I signed up to do. If I happen to miss, I happen to miss. But, I hope it works out."
"I would have liked to have been able to vote, but I can deal with it since we're out helping people," Shea said.
Task force members were encouraged to vote absentee when they were activated for possible deployment, according to Evan Schumann, program manager for the task force.
"I chose not to do absentee before I left because I thought I was going to be here," Ricketts said. "And when they gave us the opportunity to try and go vote, it was just not the time to get down there. I feel like I wasn't able to do my duty as a U.S. citizen to vote, but that's just what happens under the circumstances."
Some of the members did a get a chance to cast their votes.
"Based on past experiences I knew that there was a pretty good probability that I actually would get deployed, especially with the severity of the storm, so I went ahead and voted before I departed," Thomas said.
, gets its orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is made up of mostly public safety personnel. Thirty percent of its members are from the Dayton region. All of the deployed task force members were paid by their employers.
"Then I collect that cost from all these agencies," Schumann said. "We'll submit a reimbursement package to FEMA for those personnel costs and the other deployment costs and then FEMA reimburses us for those costs and then I write a check (to a member's employer).
"It costs about $100,000 a day for this task force, type one team, to be in the field."
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