By: Evan Peterson
It was a winter storm that put nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population, approximately 200 million people, under winter warnings or advisories at some point over the Christmas holiday weekend. For the residents of Georgia, it was the coldest series of days they have seen in more than five years.
“Here comes the subfreezing temperatures around Christmas weekend,” said Troup County Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Management Agency Director Zac Steele. “So then comes the conversations with our staff, and partners about what we’re going to do, and if we have the staffing and sheltering resources for that.”
Steele knew from his years of public service, there’s no such thing as a convenient disaster or storm. However, having one on this scale arrive around the holidays – well that complicated things, a lot. He and his colleagues at the Troup County Emergency Management Agency held a meeting with the Troup County Fire Department, Troup County Sheriff’s Office, LaGrange Police Department, and the American Red Cross to figure out how they were going to keep people safe from the storm.
“Thirty minutes after the meeting is over (Brooks Spangler) calls me and says, ‘we got that shelter over there that they’re going to open up in the evening. Listen, Zac, there are people over here on the sidewalk right now. We got to find a way to get this thing open.’ I said, okay, let’s figure out how we can support that.”
Calls for assistance started going out, and minutes later a shelter was opened, hours ahead of schedule, getting people in from the cold.
“In support of what Brooks and (Doodle Eubanks) were trying to do at the Red Cross. We wrangled up public safety employees to supplement the volunteers that Brooks and his team could get together over the next two to three days, including Christmas Eve and Christmas,” said Steele. “We got accommodation from Troup County Fire Department, Troup County Sheriff’s Office, LaGrange Police Department, and Red Cross volunteers. And thanks to them – they kept this shelter open 24 hours a day on the fly, Friday afternoon, headed into a major holiday weekend.”
To these first responders, it was a Christmas miracle of its own accord. With some good people and a lot of hard work and determination, they kept this warming shelter open for several days, servicing just under 30 people.
“I think it’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen accomplished in public safety,” says Steele.
“Because there was no griping about it there was no ‘I’m supposed to be gone’ or ‘this is supposed to happen’ it was ‘okay, how do we make this happen.”
However, for Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Brooks Spangler, and his volunteer partner Doodle Eubanks, Spangler says, this is just what they do.
“We are put in these positions to take action and it only seemed like the reasonable, and the right, thing to do, and as quickly as we could. So, I felt compelled,” says Spangler.
“Unfortunately, in my role, I go through the worst-case scenario of how these things can play out and I did not want it to go that way. Fortunately, I had a volunteer partner, Doodle, who really talked these things through and came up with a game plan quickly to get those folks inside.”
Their kind and decisive action didn’t stop there; Spangler took things a step further with Christmas in mind.
“There was a nearly 2-year-old child at the warming center, mother and father were there, no warm clothes, they ran out of diapers, we were able to get diapers, and we made a quick trip down the road to a store to get them clothes, jackets, and some small Christmas gifts,” says Spangler, who mentions he also had a child around the same age.
Eventually, temperatures warmed up a bit and those taking shelter from the cold began to leave. Spangler and Steele both said their job isn’t done, but keeping in mind the reason for the season, Spangler says, he wouldn’t have wanted to spend this Christmas doing anything else.
“My way of thinking was that when you see something or someone that needs help, don’t walk away and don’t turn your back or in our case, don’t drive off. Doing the right thing, especially when it is in your face, can be as simple as making a couple of calls, connecting resources, and spending a little time realizing that we’re all in this together.”
If you feel compelled to give back or be a part of the Red Cross mission, you can do so here. Additionally, Spangler adds that there is a growing need for more volunteers in Troup County. If you’d like to become a volunteer, you can do so here.