Iowa fire chief shares Hurricane Katrina lessons - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Iowa fire chief shares Hurricane Katrina lessons

Steve Gerard oversees the volunteer firefighters in New Sharon, Iowa, population 1300. (Photo source: WLOX) Steve Gerard oversees the volunteer firefighters in New Sharon, Iowa, population 1300. (Photo source: WLOX)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

He's a small town fire chief, with an awfully big heart. Steve Gerard oversees the volunteer firefighters in New Sharon, Iowa, population 1300. He never realized how much helping Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina would impact his life and his fire department.     

Fire Chief Steve Gerard vividly recalled when he and his team of eight firefighters were nearing the coast just after Katrina. They were around Hattiesburg and wide eyed.

"We're tourist happy. We're starting to take pictures because we're thinking there's a lot of debris and trees down," said the chief.

Little did they know the devastation which awaited in Biloxi. But they soon were in the midst of all that destruction, assigned to help "muck out" the houses of emergency responders.

"The houses we were doing, you couldn't get a contractor in at that point in time. So a lot of the families were trying to do it themselves," said Chief Gerard.

One Katrina memory Chief Gerard recalls is navigating Biloxi by storm debris landmarks.

"We're not sure where Howard's at. Okay, you know where the house is out in the street? Yep. That's where you need to go. Down that. Okay. It was a landmark for us," he explained.

The Katrina experience served his team well. Not only did they return on future helping-hand trips to Biloxi, they also used lessons learned for future disaster deployments, including a post tornado assignment in Missouri.

"When Joplin was hit with three F-5s, and we ended up down there working body recovery. And uh, another learning process for our group," the chief said.

And while Chief Gerard admits such assignments can take an emotional toll on first responders, they also somehow manage to keep their sense of humor through it all. He shared the story how he and his Iowa boys never learned to like grits for breakfast.

"All I can tell you is, I ruined some pretty good sausage gravy trying to cover up those grits," he said, smiling.

Copyright 2015 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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