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‘We’re just here to help’: Conway firefighters give up sleep and time with family

Conway firefighters haven’t seen much of their homes, beds or families for the better part of two weeks, and Saturday was no exception as they helped residents of the Pecan Ridge subdivision navigate floodwaters.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re tired — obviously we are — but we muster up the energy when we can for instances like this, because for some people, it’s just beginning,” Conway Fire Capt. Jason Perzan said.

On Friday, the rising Waccamaw River was a nuisance for Pecan Ridge, creeping into the backyards of homes. By Saturday morning, floodwaters rose more than foot and some residents packed up what they could and fled for drier ground.

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Conway firefighter Jason Perzan works to help people in high waters in the Pecan Groove Subdivision. Lorena Rios Trevino The Charlotte Observer

But some people stayed, and firefighters used boats Saturday to shuttle them to and from their homes with groceries. The National Guard, the Coast Guard and Conway police also knocked on doors to make sure everyone was OK.

Firefighters Jon Deal and Steve Warren pulled a small boat through the waist-deep water. They were willing to get wet so the two people they ferried to their homes could stay dry.

Deal said it can be frustrating to help people after emergency officials have been warning about potential flooding for the past week. But he said he understood why a person who lived in the same house for 60 years might not want to leave.

Conway officials have warned residents about the chance for flooding, especially those who were impacted following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. More than 900 Conway homes were flooded after Matthew, and officials say 1,000 homes could face the same fate this year in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

Conway spokeswoman Taylor Newell said she did not know how many people have been rescued in Conway. The fire department helped about a dozen people during flash flooding last week and expects to conduct more rescues before the Waccamaw River crests Tuesday or Wednesday.

Perzan said he wasn’t upset with people who haven’t evacuated.

“We’re just here to help,” he said. “Any word we can get out to the public, to let them know, sometimes it’s just they need to hear that from us and it helps.

“That’s our main goal, just to help people and educate them.”

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Homes face flooding from the Wacammaw River in Pecan Groove subdivision in Conway. Lorena Rios Trevino The Charlotte Observer

Deal and Warren both said they were happy they were able to go home for a little while this week. Firefighters are working 24-hour shifts, as they normally do, and schedules are being changed as needed, Perzan said.

Conway city officials, including Adam Emrick, also pitched in on Saturday to help Pecan Grove residents. Emrick, the city administrator, stopped short of using the word “frustrating” for those who didn’t heed warnings.

Emrick said his own family didn’t listen when he told them to evacuate before Florence made landfall Sept. 14.

Post-hurricane flooding can mean long days and time away from families, but it’s worth it, Emrick said.

“It’s not a job,” he said, “it’s a passion.”

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