When Hurricane Laura began to tear through Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana, Zachary first responders had “boots on the ground” ready to take a proactive stance against what was to become one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the state.

The Zachary Fire Department is a part of the USAR Task Force, a Louisiana search and rescue disaster response collaborative. The East Baton Rouge Parish is made up of EMS and firefighters from Baton Rouge, Zachary and Central.

Zachary Deputy Fire Chief Jimbo Noland led the local team of firefighters Chase Lord, Jordan Ashford and Greg Noel. The Zachary crew members brought two pickup trucks, two Gator Tail boats with boat trailers and a Polaris Ranger .

The team deployed the day before Laura hammered southwest Louisiana as a Category 4 storm. The storm made landfall at 1 a.m. near Cameron, just south of Lake Charles, the first metropolitan area in the storm’s path.

The beachside city was left with widespread destruction from Laura’s powerful winds. Roofs were ripped off buildings and homes and a maze of fallen trees and power lines made navigating the streets dangerous. While the area was beginning to access impact, an industrial chlorine-products plant caught fire, sending toxic smoke throughout and sparking a shelter-in-place order.

The team checked houses and responded to 911 calls on the landfall day before returning to the Lafayette fire training facility at nightfall. The city is expected to remain without electricity and water for two to three weeks.

The next day the team attempted to enter Cameron Parish but were unable find a way in. On Aug. 30, the team made headway into Cameron and conducted searches despite hazards in its path.

The Louisiana Task Force was formed in 2004 and has responded to historic emergency events, including Hurricane Katrina and the floods of 2016. The Orleans Parish Office of Homeland Security formed a steering committee with representatives from several different agencies with the mission to research and develop an all hazards emergency response team for the Louisiana Region I area.