By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with one another and can often be the culprit of unsubstantiated misinformation being spread. However, on the plus side, it is also an effective and immediate way to relay a personal message. That is what Shinnston VFD Deputy Chief Derek McIntyre did last week. Via Facebook, he encouraged area residents in north central West Virginia to consider helping our brothers and sisters in the southern counties of the Mountain State where last week’s flooding caused such devastation.
Shinnston firefighters stood behind him and ‘Ten House’ in Shinnston became a coordination center for donation drop-offs. Deputy Chief McIntyre described the response they received as “unprecedented”!
“Although we were overwhelmed by the reaction my plea gathered in such a short time, it was in true fashion because that’s how people in Shinnston, Harrison County, and all over West Virginia respond. They always exceed what you ask of them … and they certainly have done just that,” he said. “We were all truly in awe of what transpired here in just a 24-hour period, but it all flowed together like a well-oiled machine!”
Not only did community members swarm in to drop off both supplies and monetary donations, but many stayed to help with sorting, packaging, and loading.
“SO MANY people helped us and many were people we didn’t even know,” McIntyre added. “We were so overwhelmed by the response and so busy getting things together that making introductions kind of took a back seat. And now we have no way to thank them properly, but their help was surely appreciated more than words can begin to convey.”
Other area fire departments were taking collections as well – in Spelter, Lumberport, Nutter Fort, Mt. Clare, Salem, Stonewood, to name a few. They delivered their donations to the Shinnston VFD for coordination and disbursement to areas in need as well.
McIntyre noted, “Members of fire departments are one big family, and that’s what happened. They were ALL there to lend a hand and help collect what was needed. Even our wives and family members have pitched in to help. And we won’t stop until these flood victims’ needs are all satisfied. We’ll keep going and offer help where people need us.”
Shinnston Fire Chief Dylan Oliveto said, “This all started from Derek asking ‘What can we do?’!” And it just transformed from there. It started with Nutter Fort Fire Department offering us a box trailer … then Prospect Valley Trucking supplied us with two 53-foot tractor trailers, donating the drivers and the fuel as well … and then Fluid Delivery Systems offered us two additional box trailers. As our effort grew, we had other agencies contact us that they, too, wanted to help. It was amazing! And we have filled them all, made deliveries and are filling again. Derek stays abreast of who is really in need NOW through Senator Manchin’s office and we have tried to hit those areas that have not yet been visited.”
Chief Oliveto said that donations to SVFD have come from Mannington, Fairview, Morgantown, and even as far away as Carmichael, PA!
“It has really been incredible to see how people have pulled together to help their fellow West Virginians,” Oliveto continued. “Donations have come from everywhere, and certainly our own community has been right in there with us. Lee Reger Builds lent us a forklift to use; United Central provided some manpower and loading equipment; and several local businesses provided us with pallets and boxes for packaging. Fire Safety Investigations is having Sam’s Club pack $3,500 worth of supplies that will be delivered to us. It has been such a total ‘team effort’ from everyone … a great outreach project from many caring people. It says a lot about our community and our entire area!”
The Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department also sent local firefighters to Pinch and Clendenin, WV to help man their fire stations for 24 hours. In addition, deliveries of supplies have been made to several effected counties in the southern part of the Mountain State.
Chief Oliveto said that the community of Birch River in Nicholas County needed lime because their sewage plant had overflowed. “Four thousand pounds of lime was donated and that has been delivered … along with pet and horse feed,” he stated.
Camden-on-Gauley in Webster County was another locale visited. The SVFD delivery was the first to reach those folks. “Those people were crying and thanking us – especially because we had come from north central WV to help them. It was very emotional,” Oliveto added. “The pictures seen on television just don’t do the devastation justice. These people’s lives have been turned upside down in these areas. Although we’re glad to have the resources to help them, it has been a sobering experience.”
Oliveto explained that the Cowen Fire Department (Webster County) remained a dry spot so they were acting as the central hub for Webster County where trucks could be unloaded for people in those areas.
The trucks keep on truckin’! SVFD sent a tractor trailer on Monday night to Roane County and another to Clay County. On Tuesday, a delivery went to Bergoo in Webster County.
McIntyre is keeping in contact with Senator Manchin’s office regarding areas of immediate need and items needed. Of course, storm survivors are also being helped by the WV Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the WV National Guard, the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other agencies; but the counties that have been declared major disaster areas continues to grow, so additional assistance is critical.
Greenbrier, Kanawha and Nicholas counties were the first to receive federal declarations. On Tuesday, the list extended to include Clay, Fayette, Monroe, Pocahontas, Roane, Summers and Webster counties.
Shinnston VFD Deputy Chief McIntyre described his visit to the southern part of WV during one delivery trip. “If you’ve never been involved in a flooding emergency, you just can’t appreciate the phenomenal loss these folks are enduring,” he said. “Imagine losing everything! I saw pull-behind trailers in trees and water marks on houses 8 to 10 feet in height. Homes are ruined; people are without the things we just take for granted. Add to this the loss of lives and those that are missing! It is unimaginable. People line up when a truck pulls in with aid and you can see the relief on their faces that they’re not alone. People even beg for pet food! From our standpoint, it is hard to adequately describe. We feel pride in what we are doing to help them, but at the same time, there is a sadness that we can’t do more to help put their lives back together,” he concluded.
Fire Chief Dylan Oliveto says the aid will continue. “There are still many needs and we want to help fulfill them. Items needed include non-perishable food items, toiletries such as shampoo and toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, diapers, bleach, Lysol, buckets, mops and brooms, first aid kits, bug sprays, antiseptics, bandaids, batteries, rubber boots, blankets and even camping supplies,” he explained. “At this time, we are discouraging donations of clothing; those can be donated through the Salvation Army.”
Shinnston VFD is still gratefully accepting donations. The Fire Department doors will remain open for contributions, and they will be set up at Ferguson Park to accept contributions on July 1st during the Independence Day Concert in the Park. Monetary donations are also appreciated. Checks should be made payable to the Shinnston Fire Department, marked “Flood Relief” in the memo line.
“On behalf of our fire department and other area departments … and on behalf of the flood victims we are responding to, we thank all of our area citizens for answering our call. We cannot name everyone, but know that because you answered our Facebook post, you have made a difference,” Oliveto concluded.