By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, McLEOD, CARVER COUNTIES, MN If there’s a major flood or tornado in Minnesota, you can bet that the West Metro Disaster Recovery Team is on its way.
“We have over 100 volunteers,” board member Del Brelje said. “Our members come from Carver, McLeod, Sibley, Wright, Nicollet, and Le Sueur counties. We draw from a fairly large area.”
In addition to hand labor, many volunteers utilize equipment from their farms or businesses. The group has well over 40 skid loaders, nine front-end loaders, 30 gravel trucks, and several generators, among other equipment.
“If we have 50 people, we can remove 150,000 sandbags in one day,” Brelje said. “That’s pretty awesome.”
The team, which specializes in flood and tornado cleanup, is the only organization of its kind in the state.
“Our goal is to come in, do the job, and be out as soon as possible,” Brelje noted, explaining that they do everything they can to make the situation least stressful for the victims.
“We do a lot of work in a short amount of time,” he said. “We have quality volunteers.”
The group is completely self-contained, and volunteers supply their own food, beverages, and lodging. Brelje said that no one is paid to manage the organization, and they aim to run it as efficiently as possible.
Unavoidable costs, such as fuel and equipment repair, can be quite expensive, however.
“It can take $25,000 for a three-day event,” he said, adding that it isn’t unusual to go through $1,000 per hour in fuel alone.
Brelje said he would love to see the organization grow, as long as people are willing to fund it.
“It is rewarding,” he said. “Most homeowners we help are crying and pretty emotional. They’re very thankful.”
“When there’s a disaster, a person may have lost his home,” volunteer Ron Templin of Plato added. “It’s a matter of helping someone else out.”
The idea to start a disaster recovery team developed in 1997, before Brelje retired from the Norwood Young America Fire Department.
“We were at a meeting, and we thought it would be good to start a relief team to help with flooding in East Grand Forks,” Brelje said. “With that, it grew and grew and grew and grew.”
Since that time, the group has also provided relief after tornados in St. Peter, Brainerd, and Buffalo Lake, as well as flooding in Breckenridge and Cleveland/Nicollet.
Any city, county, or township can request the team’s free services. This year, the group has been working with state emergency management, who will select the worst disaster to send them to first.
Once a service has been requested, board members will obtain majority approval before responding to the incident.
“We put together 40 to 60 volunteers, and divide the group into smaller teams,” Brelje said.
Brelje said the organization is always seeking new volunteers.
“I believe in what we do,” he said. “We’re the only organization in the state like it, and it works.”
Anyone who’d like to contribute money to the West Metro Disaster Recovery Team can send the donation to 205 First Ave. SE, Norwood Young America 55397.
To learn more about the team or to become a volunteer, contact board member Del Brelje at (612) 570-5054.