California swift-water rescue team deployed to Henry County ahead of Hurricane Florence

16-member team brought numerous boats, medical supplies

By Colter Anstaett - Southside Bureau Reporter

HENRY COUNTY, Va. - When Tom Henzgen and 15 of his fellow Los Angeles, California Fire Department swift water rescue team members were asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond to Hurricane Florence, they had no idea they'd end up in Henry County.

"We were told originally that we were going to be going to Fort A.P. Hill (in northern Virginia). Then, while we were en route, somewhere around Tennessee, we received a phone call from FEMA that we were redirected," Henzgen recalled.

He's not complaining, though.

"Our focus right now is preparing for anything that may happen here in Henry County," Henzgen said.

The closest swift-water rescue team is in Danville, but with a potential for swift-water rescues there, the team won't be available to respond to any rescues in Henry County.

"We are an all-risk swift-water rescue team, which means we can work in very, very fast, turbulent, rapid-type water or we can work in benign, nonmoving static floodwater," Henzgen said.

The team is staying at the Henry County Department of Public Safety's office.

"This was fantastic. This was kind of a learning curve for us to, to know that these resources, they would go ahead and deploy them early enough. If we waited until this weekend to see what we need, they wouldn't have gotten here in time," HCDPS deputy director Suzie Helbert said. 

Helbert said the community as a whole was quick to show its appreciation for the team. 

"Henry County has spoiled them properly. Volunteers from churches and individuals and groups have been bringing food in for them. They are leaving here with a good taste of Southern hospitality," Helbert said.

"The welcoming is just amazing and we're just happy to be here to help," Henzgen said.

Henzgen and his team plan to be in Henry County until FEMA either sends them somewhere else or tells them that they can go home.

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