Meet The Civilian Crisis Response Team That Saved Lives During Hurricane Florence

Volunteers came all the way from Indiana to help the rescue efforts.

Meet The Civilian Crisis Response Team That Saved Lives During Hurricane Florence

Amber Hersel does not have a background in any medical field or law enforcement specialty. But, thanks to her training with the Civilian Crisis Response Team (CCRT), Hersel was the subject of an iconic photo from Hurricane Florence where she helped rescue a small child in James City, North Carolina. 

The goal of CCRT, a nonprofit volunteer organization, is to take the Good Samaritans in the world and teach them how to step up in emergency situations. Its logo includes the number seven, a nod to the statistic that it takes an average of seven minutes for the police, ambulance or first responders to arrive at a scene after an emergency call. CCRT hopes to fill in that 7-minute gap.

"You're driving down the freeway, you see a very bad car accident, someone is seriously injured, and you'll be able to pull over safely, give 911 very meaningful information and be able to render more than just basic first aid, but be able to render life stabilizing aid until an ambulance crew is able to get there," CCRT founder J.R. Grounds told A Plus. "By the time one of those professional responders gets there, if there would be trained civilians that happened upon that accident and could render some kind of assistance, it makes a massive difference."

Grounds, who has a military, law enforcement, and EMS background, started CCRT in August of 2015. Since then, he has been helping organize training for people like Hersel all over Indiana and the rest of the country. Today, there are more 1,400 members of CCRT spread out over seven states.

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"I think what surprised me most was that you don't need an extensive medical background in order to help in an emergency situation," Hersel, who is a photographer and a stay-at-home mom in Indiana, told A Plus. "Before I discovered CCRT, I always assumed you would have to be a part of a fire department or an emergency crew in order help and make a difference. When in reality, groups like ours make the information readily available to people like myself."

There is a vast range of trainings that CCRT help their members go through. The training is often given by third parties like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Members can be trained in anything from handling hazardous material to mass casualty events, first aid, water rescue and animal rescue. Classes are mostly free or heavily discounted for the volunteers, but when the time calls — like in the case of Hurricane Florence — volunteers are asked to drop everything, reschedule their week, ask off of work, and then pay their way to the disaster site. 

"For the most part, I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I don't have work to deal with," Hersel said. "It's more just moving around your day to day life for a little bit… but in my mind, going into a hurricane and helping people that need you is way more important than making a doctors appointment, you know, something like that that you can do later."

Civilian Crisis Response Team's Amber Hersel
Volunteer Amber Hersel from the Civilian Crisis Response Team carries 7-year-old Keiyana Cromartie after she and her family were rescued from their flooded home during Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Hersel, like many of the CCRT volunteers, did enough training in disaster response classes to get certified to go help out in Florence. Her role was helping bring people from the rescue boat crews up to dry land. The morning Getty photographers captured pictures of Hersel during a rescue, a CCRT boat rescue team responded to a man having a heart attack. The local fire department couldn't get to him, so boat rescuers certified in swift water rescues helped transport a medic to the man.

"When you first go into a situation like this, it's intimidating," Hersel said. "Man vs. weather doesn't usually go well. You have no way of predicting what you're driving into. It's a little scary being that person. But as soon as you get there and you're started and you see the people that need that help, that kind of all just gets pushed away. Your human instinct to help others kind of kicks in and you just feel like that's where you're supposed to be."

During her time in North Carolina, Hersel said CCRT was welcomed by residents of Stantonsburg, North Carolina, a small town just outside the most dangerous parts of Florence. Many of the volunteers stayed inside a community center where they were close enough to get where they needed to be to help in an hour's drive. 41 people and millions of farm animals have died in the hurricane, and more than 1,100 roads and interstates in North Carolina have remained closed as of Thursday afternoon, according to The Weather Channel. Hersel, who was there from the Sept. 12 until Sept. 17, said the team stayed until local authorities decided there wasn't much more they could do. CCRT is still in contact with agencies in North Carolina in case they get called back to help with the cleanup, in which case she's confident the team will go right back down. 

"I've helped with flooding and stuff before but I've never helped with a disaster on this scale," Hersel said. "It was so rewarding to see everyone working for a common good…it didn't matter what your day-to-day life was or what your differences were. Being able to help someone in need and then for those people to turn around and be so grateful and help in any way they can, I really feel like it was such a humbling experience."

Cover image via Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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