Josh Skertich has previously been a part of four hurricane deployments.
His fifth came in late August when he and two other Frisco Fire Department personnel were deployed as part of Texas A&M Task Force 1, a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team, to assist in the response to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.
Stirrings of conversation surrounding the oncoming storm began around Aug. 25, Skertich said, when everyone became aware that there would be a hurricane coming soon.
“I guess it was about Aug. 27, that morning, everybody started to get in a fluster, because that’s when our alerting system kicked in, which we used ‘code red’ with the task force, and everybody just kind of knew exactly what was happening,” he said.
Task force members made the trip down and ended up at a recreation center in Lafayette, where they rode out the beginning of the storm, Skertich said. The next morning at about 2 a.m., Skertich said, they woke up to reports of people who were missing or trapped.
“A lot of chaos in the beginning because the first responders down there have no idea what’s going on,” Skertich said. “And that’s when the Louisiana operations center knows that we’re available, knows that there’s about seven other task forces available in their areas, strategically placed, to move in.”
They encountered areas that had faced catastrophic wind damage, he said, recalling blocks of leveled houses.
Interactions and images stick out to Skertich from his time in Louisiana: the woman who needed her air conditioner lifted, the tugboats found out of water, the man who offered them cold water from his boat and the shrimper who said it had been “the storm of the century.”
Skertich said the ability to make a difference is what makes him continue going on such deployments.
“It may not be the heroic act of breaking through 14 tons of concrete to save someone, it’s just the simple act of ‘Hey, could you unload this case of water or this generator out of the back of my truck?’” he said. “And it makes you feel great. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush out there is when you’re in a situation where there’s nothing, it is very primal, and someone just says ‘Thanks.’”
Skertich has since returned to Texas Sept. 3 and has resumed taking on regular shifts as a captain with the Frisco Fire Department.
“Which is kind of a weird transition, when you go from 16-hour work days, sleeping on a cot on a basketball court in a rec center to a fire station that has power and there’s no wind,” he said.
However, deployments also impact how Skertich approaches his job in Frisco. With a history of responding to wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes, he said the experiences allow him to bring back a vast array of knowledge that comes from working with first responders from departments across the state.
Some of that came into play when Frisco experienced a gas leak in May in the area of the Grayhawk subdivision. Skertich said the task of evacuating roughly 200 homes in a Frisco community came easy for him as a result.
“The light went on and said ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re evacuating, we’re door to door,’” he said, “knowing how many people want to stay, how many people were leaving, sheltering in place and all these things that you’re passing on to your crew, saying ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to do it, and this is the advanced training that we’ve learned from being on a state and federal team.”