North Dakota firefighters help with Hurricane Ida cleanup

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 12:02 PM CDT
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LOCKPORT, LA. - Some North Dakota firefighters have spent the past couple of weeks on a very special assignment.

Four members of the Willison Fire Department and two from Bismarck Rural Fire headed to Louisiana on Sept. 1 to help with cleanup from Hurricane Ida.

A few days later, an additional nine first responders from Dickinson and Williston were called to help.

Thanks to technology, we were able to visit with some of the firefighters via Zoom. They shared their experiences working in a hurricane zone.

From Williston, N.D., to Lockport, La.

“It’s about 1,880 miles so you can imagine it took a few days to get here,” recalled Williston Fire Department Capt. Paul Riely.

Once they arrived, these North Dakota firefighters got right to work.

“We’ve been assisting the fire department with whatever is needed; going from carbon monoxide calls to fire alarms to structure fires. We’ve helped the community with tree cleanup, unloading trailers and whatever is needed we’re helping,” explained Bismarck rural firefighter and EMT Lydia Citta.

Power is still out in the area, trees are down, homes are destroyed.

“There’s just huge swaths of devastation,” said Riely.

The devastation is unlike anything these firefighters have ever seen before.

“This is an extremely generous community,” said Williston firefighter and EMT Colton Gutknecht.

“I haven’t seen anybody not happy to see us,” Citta remarked.

“For their lives being turned over they’re just super nice to us,” added Riely.

That includes their fellow firefighters.

“It’s been a blessing working with these guys. It’s going to be hard after working these couple of weeks with them for them to be gone. I made some awesome friends in these guys, and they backed us up from day one,” said Lt. Waylon Orgeron with the Lockport, La., fire department.

Between calls, they’ve found some time to have fun. Gutknecht celebrated his birthday at the Lockport fire station, complete with cake and a special guest.

“We were talking about wanting to see an alligator. Before they relocated one, they brought it by to show us,” said Riely while referencing a photo of the North Dakota first responders holding an alligator.

They’ll leave here on Friday, with new firefighter friends and a special souvenir.

“We wanted an alligator head to bring home, so they found one that they had, and they gave it to us,” Riely said while Gutknecht held the alligator head.

A one-of-a-kind keepsake that will ensure they’ll never forget their time in Louisiana.

Hurricane Ida was a category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest storms to hit Louisiana in modern history.

Cleanup with continue long after these North Dakota firefighters are home.

The other crew will stay in the area a bit longer, but they’re generally gone for 18 days: 14 days boots on the ground and four days for travel.

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