VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - Whether there's an explosion at the chemical plant in Valdosta or a tornado destroying buildings just outside of town, Valdosta Firefighters are some of the first emergency responders on scene.
But that response comes with a great deal of risk to the firefighters, especially the search and rescue personnel tasked with going into the damage.
"You're just focused on the job at hand. You're main objective is gettin' the person out or tryin' to help whoever you're tryin' to save," said Valdosta Fire Department Sergeant Blake Whitehead. Whitehead is also a member of Lowndes County's search and rescue team, which is based out of the Valdosta Fire department.
When an EF-2 tornado ripped through Langdale Forest Products on Monday, the Valdosta Fire Department called in 27 extra personnel who were off duty at the time to help out at the scene and to make sure that there were plenty of people available to respond to other calls.
"Many of us would much rather have been on scene I think, but we also knew that we had to be here to protect the city and serve the citizens that weren't involved in the incident," said Valdosta Fire Department Captain Ronald Skrine.
When an explosion rocked the Permafix plant in Valdosta in 2013, the fire department also called in dozens of off duty personnel. "When you call the Valdosta Fire Department," explained Valdosta Fire Department Captain Jason Rowan, "the dedication of our personnel is unmatched. They're gonna respond in."
Sgt. Blake Whitehead was out with his family when he got the call on Monday. "I told 'em that I'd be careful and I'd be back to see 'em later tonight," Whitehead recalled.
And, that's exactly how they're trained to react; remaining calm and positive, but willing to put their lives on the line at a moment's notice.