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North Carolina receives international accolades for swift water and flood rescue

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana – North Carolina has received the international Higgins and Langley Award for Outstanding Achievement in Swift Water Rescue for the coordinated local, state and federal response in October 2016 to Hurricane Matthew. More than 30 teams rescued 2,336 people and brought them to safety as Matthew’s floodwaters rose.  The premier internationally recognized award for excellence in swift water and flood rescue was presented last night during the annual conference of the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals in South Bend, Indiana.

“When the flood waters rose after Hurricane Matthew, these heroes put their lives on the line to save others,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “We’re grateful for their courage and their dedication to staying trained and ready to help whenever needed.”

Governor Cooper plans to honor the award-winning swift water rescue teams in Raleigh next month.

“This award recognizes great work done by our local, state and federal water rescue teams, both in the water and in the air, rescuing thousands of people from Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry.  “These teams train constantly and their capability and professionalism shines though in all their responses.”

Established in 1993, the Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County firefighter, paramedic and swift water rescue pioneer, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993. The awards acknowledge individuals and swift water rescue teams that use specialized technical rescue to save lives, increase awareness about the need for swift water and flood rescue training, promote worldwide training standards of certification, and inspire other agencies to develop viable water rescue programs.

The agencies contributing to the Hurricane Matthew rescue effort recognized by the Higgins and Langley board include:

Apex Fire Department
Brunswick County Emergency Services
Buncombe County Emergency Services
Burke County EMS
Cary Fire Department
Chapel Hill Fire Department
Charlotte Fire Department
Cumberland County EMS
Davie County Rescue Squad
Durham Fire Department
East Lincoln Fire Department
Fayetteville Fire and Police Departments
FEMA Task Forces from Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania
FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Incident Support Team
Gaston County EMS
Greensboro Fire Department
Greenville Fire Department
Henderson County Rescue Squad
King Fire Department
Lewisville Fire Department
Lumberton Rescue Squad
Mooresville Fire Department
North Carolina Emergency Management
North Carolina National Guard
North Carolina State Highway Patrol
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Onslow Rescue Squad
Raleigh Fire Department
Rockingham Rescue Squad
Rocky Mount Fire Department
South Orange Rescue Squad
Transylvania County EMS
United States Coast Guard Aviation and Punt Team
Vance County Rescue Squad
Winston-Salem Fire Department
This marks the second time North Carolina has received the prestigious Higgins and Langley Award. The state was awarded the same honor in 2005 after swift water rescue teams saved more than 1,110 people following Tropical Storms Frances and Ivan.

North Carolina Emergency Management organizes the state’s search and rescue programs including swift water, wilderness, helicopter and mountain teams by providing oversight, training and funding. Thirty highly-trained swift water rescue teams are positioned across the state, in addition to several North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Teams (NC HART) which combine swift water rescue technicians with helicopters for rescues by air. The swift water rescue teams are comprised of personnel and equipment from local public safety agencies across the state that train to meet national standards and can be deployed anywhere within North Carolina or across the country. NC HART combines aircraft and pilots from the NC State Highway Patrol or NC National Guard with many of the swift water rescue technicians to extricate people trapped in trees, rooftops or other precarious locations.

Following Hurricane Matthew, the state’s rescue teams were supported by FEMA swift water rescue teams from Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and by U.S. Coast Guard resources based in North Carolina and elsewhere.

North Carolina’s search and rescue capabilities were born in the wake of Hurricane Fran in 1996 when NC Emergency Management recognized the need to develop an inventory of available teams with basic rescue capabilities. The asset proved to be extremely valuable three years later during Hurricane Floyd when responders rescued hundreds of victims from flooded homes, cars, rooftops and trees. Floyd’s rescue operations highlighted the need for specially trained and equipped teams that could safely rescue those trapped in floodwaters or swift water conditions. Since then, the swift water / flood rescue teams and NCHART teams have become some of the state’s most activated specialized emergency response resources.