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ROANOKE - Several Woodford County firefighters have received humanitarian service medals for helping the New Orleans Fire Department after Hurricane Katrina.

Thirteen volunteers from several county departments spent two weeks in New Orleans in early September as part of a contingent deployed through Illinois' Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. The mutual-aid system, which uses the resources of its member departments to help other fire departments in need, presented the awards at a receive ceremony in Roanoke.

"We didn't see a lot of action, but it was a very good learning experience," said Dave Zobrist of Congerville, who was in command of the mutual-aid system's Division 33, which is comprised of the all-volunteer fire departments in Woodford County.

Division 33 mainly assisted with setting up a camp for firefighters and re-supplying the firefighters on duty, Zobrist said

Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall Aug. 29, was the first major deployment of the Illinois mutual-aid system on a broad scale.

"MABAS is fairly new and yet it's not," Zobrist said. "It was in the Chicago area for years, then they started pushing it after 9-11. Everybody got involved.

"(Katrina) was a good test," he said.

Firefighters were able to experience how incident command works in bigger situations where there are more people involved beyond their own units.

"We're trained in incident command, but nothing like that," Zobrist said. "We felt it was worth our time."

Zobrist said the experience could come in handy if several departments in Woodford County are involved in a major incident. An example would be the 2004 tornado that tore through the Roanoke area and leveled the Parson Manufacturing plant, he said.

The trip also brought together several firefighters from different departments who had not worked together before.

"I knew some of them, but we had never really worked together," Zobrist said. "It was a good time to get know each other."

Volunteers from Germantown Hills, Eureka, El Paso, Spring Bay, Washburn, Roanoke, Congerville and Eureka went on the trip.

Most of the volunteers had to take time off from their regular jobs to serve, but did so gladly, Zobrist said.

"We'd do it again if the time was right," Zobrist said. "A lot of others (volunteer firemen) would go too."

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