Florida-bound GRFD chief prepares for Irma aftermath

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lee Finlayson has a good idea of what to expect in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“I think it will be worse than Katrina was,” he said Friday. “Katrina was kind of surreal when you drive in. I mean, you didn’t hear bugs. You see school buses staged with doors and windows open… with nobody there. (There were) no noises.”

As the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s training chief, Finlayson is no stranger to disaster. Friday, he received a call from state emergency management officials to pack up and prepare to go to Florida to lend his search and rescue expertise.>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of Irma | How you can help

He’s hoping evacuation efforts will reduce the need for that expertise.

“Getting everybody out of there will be a better way to go than in the past,” Finlayson said. “But you still have people that stay.”

Finlayson is part of Michigan’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1. The group includes firefighters and first responders from throughout the state, specially trained in some of the most difficult and dangerous types of rescues, including home and building collapses. Swift water rescues often connected to hurricane response are also part of their repertoire.

Lessons learned from major disasters can be used back home as well.

The USAR team brings along its own vehicles, equipment and shelter — everything it needs to deploy in an area short on resources.

It is difficult work and it can be heartbreaking. But members of the team bring with them the same attitude towards big disasters as they do the everyday calls back at home.

“When you go on whatever, even the simplest of medical or car accidents, something like that … you have to remember ‘I didn’t do this. I’m here to make things better,’” said Finlayson.

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