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When disaster strikes, this team moves

updated 5:39 PM EST, Thu March 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN Hero Tad Agoglia and his First Response Team provide free help after natural disasters
  • They recently brought their specialized equipment to a tornado-hit Kentucky town
  • Since 2007, the group has helped in as many as 40 disasters across the U.S.
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2012 CNN Heroes

(CNN) -- A powerful tornado ripped through West Liberty, Kentucky, last week, making the quaint community look like "a war zone," according to the state's governor.

Fortunately, the First Response Team of America was there to help.

Founded by 2008 CNN Hero Tad Agoglia, the organization brought its specialized fleet of disaster recovery equipment to West Liberty. Since 2007, the First Response Team has crisscrossed the country, providing free aid to as many as 40 disaster sites.

Agoglia recently spoke to CNN's Rob Marciano about the team's efforts in West Liberty.

Rob Marciano: It seems like you got here right as the storm hit. Were you one of the first guys on the ground?

Tad Agoglia: We arrived just a few hours after the storm went through this mountain community.

It was very interesting trying to figure out a way in, because we have huge tractor-trailers. A lot of these mountainous roads are very windy, and there were trees down, power lines down. But we eventually found the epicenter of the city right where the tornado went through.

Marciano: You've seen a lot of disasters like this. What was your first reaction?

Tad Agoglia was a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2008.
Tad Agoglia was a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2008.

Agoglia: The tornado that went through West Liberty was pretty unique. Not only did it go directly through the heart of town and destroy all of the infrastructure that's needed for a community to get back on their feet, but it also went through the hills where a lot of folks were in their homes. (That) makes it very difficult for firefighters and emergency workers to get through those windy hills and access those home sites to do search and rescue.

Marciano: What's the reaction to your team when you get into town?

Agoglia: When we arrive on the scene sometimes, it is hard for these community leaders to really believe that we are here for free with all of this gear. But they quickly do realize that we are there to help and that we care. And when they see the equipment working and the light towers go up and the roads start being cleared, they begin to realize that we are good people and that we are coming with no strings attached to help them. ...

They need tools and resources that they don't have themselves. And when they see us coming in with all the equipment ... they welcome us into the community because they know they need the help.

Marciano: What are some key things your team does to help communities like West Liberty?

Agoglia: After a tornado of this magnitude strikes a small community like this, the priorities have to be identified.

The roads need to be cleared so that emergency workers like firefighters and search-and-rescue teams can come in and find the people and extract them to safety.

They need lighting so they can see. It is very easy to walk into power lines or step on nails ... so light towers are important. So, we've cleared the roads, we've provided the light towers.

This town has a small grocery store and gas station. ... It needed power so that people could get food and water and baby food and the essentials, including gasoline so that the emergency workers can have fuel for their trucks and carry on.

Marciano: At what point do you decide: "OK, our work is done here. It is time to move on?"

Agoglia: The First Response Team provides a unique service. It's that in-between phase, that gap when the storm first strikes and when traditional help arrives. Our priority is that first day, that first night and that first few weeks until traditional help arrives.

Marciano: Why do you do this? Why did you choose this road?

Agoglia: There is just something inside of me that feels compelled to help.

When I am watching the news and I see those super cells go right over these small communities and heart of America, I know that people are going through some of the most traumatic times they have ever experienced in their lives, and I want to be there to help.

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