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After devastating floods rocked Nashville, volunteers from Washington County headed out to help during Music City’s time of need

As flood waters rose in and around Nashville on the evening of May 2, a team of volunteers from Washington County Rescue Services arrived in Music City to help flood victims evacuate.
Fall Branch resident Todd Fleenor, an experienced rescue worker and professional paramedic, thought he and his team would have a long wait before they could spring into action. But he was in for a surprise.
“A lot of times when you respond to hurricanes and floods and things, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” Fleenor said. “I told the guys not to be surprised if, when we get there, we have to wait a while to do anything. But when we got there, they had a 10-hour back log of calls, so they were ready for us to get busy immediately.”
With only five minutes to prepare, the team had to hustle to meet its police escort. Air pressure in rafts was adjusted, first aid supplies were checked, life jackets and dry suits were quickly donned.
“We wear dry suits because when you get called into a flood situation like that you have overrunning sewers, gas and diesel (leaks,) and just all kinds of chemicals and things in the water that are very bad for you,” Fleenor explained.
The team’s first stop was at the edge of a deeply submerged subdivision. “We just went into it (by car) as far as we could, it was like being at the edge of a lake because it had a current out in the center of it, but for the most part it was standing water,” Fleenor said.
As flood waters continued to climb, victims peeked out windows or watched from front porches for the team’s arrival. Marooned residents stepped gingerly into boats as rescue workers suited them in life jackets and checked them for injuries. And the Washington County rescue team made sure they had room for everyone.
“We let them bring their dogs or cats,” Fleenor said. “We don’t make them leave them behind.”
The team was grateful to discover flood victims were not only well prepared for evacuation, but were also very orderly and polite as they made their escape.
“When you think of a big city, you think of people being rude and impatient, honking their horns and hollering, but nobody was like that,” Fleenor said. “We had absolutely no problems with disorderly behavior because of scared people.
“Some people were scared, but not to the point they caused problems.”
One passenger presented a special challenge that briefly flagged the collective angst of all the flood’s refugees.
“We had one lady (who) was scared to death to even step in ankle-deep water. She was afraid there would be snakes and things,” Fleenor said. “We ended up working the boat a little closer on her porch, then one of us got up on the porch and we kind of handed her over (to the boat). It wasn’t that graceful, but it worked.”
A regular attendee of Predators’ hockey games and Titans’ football games, Fleenor found it unsettling to see the Nashville stadium transformed into a giant soup bowl as he drifted over city streets in a boat.
“It was a weird feeling to see everything filled with water,” he said. “We talked to older people who had been there for 60 years and they said they had never seen it come close to flooding like that.”
Team leader Scott Wiseman, of Elizabethton, also was struck by the sight of so much water flowing where it didn’t belong.
“Because all these places weren’t in the flood plane, it was amazing that that much water had gathered,” Wiseman said. “There were cars underwater and we would float our boats right up to people’s front porch to get them.”
A few residents refused to abandon their homes.
“It’s hard for them to leave all their belongings, and once they’ve left they weren’t sure they were going to be able to come back,” Wiseman said. “It’s hard when some people don’t leave because you know they are there, and once we leave, it could be hours before we get back to that spot.”
Wiseman said he talked with his passengers and tried to offer them a little hope during their ride to safety.
“We try to reassure them that everything is going to work out, and the best situation right now is to get them out of the flooded homes, to get them somewhere dry,” he said.
The team worked slowly and carefully to keep every passenger safe.
“It was out of our area and we don’t do water rescue every single day,” Fleenor said. “There was a lot more nervousness and thoughtfulness, and a lot of extra preparation.”
Team members were grateful not to uncover any major injuries or fatalities during their 18-hour rescue mission. And with more than two decades of rescue experience under his belt, Fleenor said that it’s still incredibly rewarding to lend a helping hand in an emergency.
“It means a lot being able to make a difference, and people are so appreciative,” he said. “Even animals would get excited when they saw us coming, and when we would hand them over to the boat you could see the thankfulness in their eyes.”