'That's our job': Raleigh firefighters detail harrowing rescue mission during Monday's hurricane and tornado

Joel Brown Image
Friday, August 7, 2020
Raleigh firefighters detail harrowing rescue mission during Monday's hurricane and tornado
Two Raleigh firefighters are credited with helping save the lives of two elderly brothers trapped in debris after a tornado spawned by Hurricane Isaias in Bertie County.

BERTIE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- As those heartbreaking images came in from Bertie County Tuesday morning following Hurricane Isaias and the deadly tornado it spawned, little was known about the heroism that had played out there overnight.

One of those heroes is a firefighter at Raleigh Fire Station 14 -- who returned home this week with a harrowing tale.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Isaias brings damaging winds, rain to the Carolinas

"As we approached that town, the storm hadn't exited fully. It was still windy, still raining heavily," described Capt. Kevin Ellsworth, a long time Raleigh Fire veteran and 20-year member of NC Task Force 8 - the elite team of search and rescue workers from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill tasked to find victims and survivors.

With Isaias still tearing through Bertie County overnight Monday, Ellsworth and his 18-member team were staged 15 minutes from the tornado zone. The call to deploy to Windsor came at 3 a.m. They were on the road 15 minutes later. But first they had to navigate through the vast debris field left by the hurricane and the tornado it spawned.

"Once we cleared the road, we would proceed. And then we encountered more trees. We'd take out those trees and just keep going down the road," Ellsworth said.

Armed with chainsaws and a set of bare-bones directions to the trailer park -- they came to a fork in the road. The direction said to go right. Ellsworth and his team, fortunately, chose to go the other way.

"Something kind of drew us to the left," he said. - "So we went to the left, not knowing what was down that way. It was very fortunate that we chose to the left because that's where the live victims were."

Two men, brothers who shared a home, were trapped inside the mangled trailer after it was lifted off its foundation by the Isaias-fueled EF-3 tornado -- flipping the mobile home multiple times.

A mother and her two children were found safe following a tornado in Bertie County. Two people died following the storm.

"They were conscious. They were very thankful. We were thankful we were able to have a successful mission," Ellsworth said. "I am a religious guy. I just feel that that's how it was meant to be."

When Ellsworth and his team arrived on top of the rolled over mobile home, the brothers were huddled in a hole down inside. One of them is an amputee. The other had a chronic health problem. Both are alive - thanks in part to Task Force 8.

"I wouldn't say I'm a hero. I would say that we as a team collectively worked together efficiently to get a job done. That's our job and that's what we did."

Task Force 8 returned home Wednesday. Captain Ellsworth took a well-deserved day off Thursday. But he'll right back at Squad 14 on Friday for his day job -- and of course always on stand-by for the next task force mission.