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Published April 20, 2012, 08:53 PM

First Responders Were Critical in '97 Flood Aftermath

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - 15 years ago, waters swallowed homes and businesses. Firefighters and police officers were working around the clock rescuing people from apartments and buildings.

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - 15 years ago, waters swallowed homes and businesses. Firefighters and police officers were working around the clock rescuing people from apartments and buildings.

Rescue crews say no one really knew when their shift started or ended. Police and firefighters were on 24-hour shifts, grabbing people from homes and protecting them from "hell and high water."

"Interesting experience. Traumatic in one event but exhiliariting in another," GFPD Lt. Mark Nelson said.

Nelson remembers when waters first started knocking on doors. He went around Lincoln Park in a boat warning people to get out.

"It's almost surreal, it's almost something you would picture in the movies after a post-nuclear type of thing. I think the quietness is what really got you. There was no light, no sound, you could hear the water running," Nelson said.

Quiet for one department, but a different story for firefighters as they battled flames with the water that had destroyed the city.

"We were just like everybody else, 'kind of in disbelief, was this really going to happen?" Firefighter Douglas Stern said.

"A lot of devastation for the whole city. In awe, it's unbelievable all the houses that were lost and all the water that came in," Firefighter Wally Osen said.

Those people they were rescuing weren't the only ones who lost homes. Police and fire crews were in the same situation: homeless.

"Eventually we were out of our house too," Stern said.

"We had officers coming to work in jeans and a work shirt just because the rest of their clothes had flooded out," Nelson said.

Although the first-hand experience from burning buildings and high waters has been pushed out of memory for some, it still gives rescue crews a sense of pride today.

"All said and done 15 years later you look back on it and it was good to say you were apart of it and hopefully have a positive outcome someway out of it," Stern said.

And how the city has rebuilt today, makes officers and firefighters prideful to be from Grand Forks.

"It's just a testament to the Midwest work ethic," Nelson said.

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