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How We Met Nancy, Rescued from Her Attic in West Virginia

Patrick O'Neill

Coming from Tinley Park, IL—South Chicago but the suburbs—and enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17. Served as a Reconnaissance team member of 2D Recon BN, A CO on two deployments to Afghanistan. He's a creative student at the University of Southern California studying English/ Creative Writing and Advertising. Currently an intern with the awesome Team Rubicon Comms Team. Chances of bumping into Pat at an LA Brewery are high.

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After deploying on Operation Pay Dirt, Irv Heide deployed to West Virginia to help salvage homes severely mangled by floods. Irv retired as a Staff Sergeant from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after 28 years and currently serves as a Senior Peace Officer with Red Deer County Protective Services in central Alberta, Canada.

Upon arriving to Nicholas County, WV, Irv stepped into a landscape of densely forested hills full of history from its coal mining past, but he also noted how it had changed in recent years after talking to the community natives.

“Nicholas County was the hardest hit by the floods with plenty of genuine victims in need of help,” Irv said. Among those affected in the community was an elderly woman, Nancy, who was home alone when the waters tore through trees, roads, and eventually her property on Pilsberry Creek Drive.

Irv was part of the team responsible for mucking-out the mud and water which devastated her home. His account of their time spent helping Nancy exemplifies the importance of Team Rubicon’s mission to the individuals affected by disasters.

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Nancy clutching her father’s burial flag.

“I first saw her as she crossed the yard with a wooden cane, followed by a line of three kittens,” Irv said. Nancy is 78 years old and the widow of a veteran and coal miner who died of “black lung.” Her father was a veteran of three wars and took his life in 1968. She is almost completely blind and partially deaf. She has lived in the same house for the past 45 years, and when the flooding hit, Nancy scrambled to the attic for shelter, leaving her walking canes behind. The water rose to within two feet of the attic where she sheltered in place, completely alone, for thirteen hours.

Her son David eventually made it to her property and rescued her through a small window into a boat he had acquired. Before being treated for injury, shock, or dehydration, Nancy requested they retrieve her father’s burial flag which she spotted floating away from her house. The team managed to scoop it up from the moving waters. Their muck & gut of Nancy’s home required four teams who worked their asses off, said Irv. The house was full of thick black mold from floor to ceiling and would’ve been condemned without the crew’s decontamination efforts.

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Nancy’s home and coal burning stove.

“I’ve been burnin’ coal for 45 years and it’s going to take more than a flood to get me to move,” Nancy said. The two strike teams lead by Melanie Williamson and Ryan Bush had been at the site filling a garbage truck, one that had a huge debris removal claw, when Chris Wells, the Operations Chief, arrived to Pilsberry Creek Dr. to inspect Nancy’s home. It didn’t take long at all for Irv to convince him they needed more help salvaging what they could of Nancy’s home. Not long after a third team, lead by Ruben Rabadan and an IsraAid team lead by Dominique Torres & Dan Friedman arrived. They kicked it into high gear, a mob of Greyshirts flowed in-and-out of the house and Tyvek suits could be seen everywhere, Irv recalled.

            “We must’ve looked like a colony of TR army ants whose home had been disrupted.”

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David returned later in the afternoon, amazed by the clean-up and what the large group had accomplished. He spoke to Irv in more detail about his mother’s rescue, saying it took him longer to make it to the house because he was stuck in the hills above the flooding, before he found the boat. The floodwaters rose to within 2 feet of his mother’s feet, trapped in the attic.

Throughout the ordeal, even considering what she had lost, Nancy remained jovial, Irv said. She smiled when I met her and jokingly said, “I’ll pay big bucks to anyone who takes one of these darn cats.” As a final display of respect, Team Rubicon Members washed and dried the massive U.S. flag then performed a flag folding ceremony lead by Josh Tully. The flag was presented to Nancy by Dan Huvane. Nancy responded with tears and a simple:

You are all my true heroes.

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Dan Huvane presenting Nancy with her folded flag.

After leaving Nancy’s home, Irv and several team members drove to an observation point under the New River Bridge. They stayed a short time, looking back towards the hills, taking everything in. “We all needed to decompress in our own little ways,” Irv said.

 

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