“I was in such shock,“ said Mexico Beach Firefighter Austin Schlarb. “And when I came out of it, I thought I still have to wake up.“
That is how Schlarb describes those first few days responding in Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael.
He and all first responders were forced to evacuate the area before the storm hit, but he makes it back to the area the same night the storm hit.
“I was the first full time person to get here.“
However, it was a journey to say the least. With his motorcycle in the shop, he started walking from his Callaway home.
“Made it a little ways in, and a Bay County Sheriff deputy ended up picking me up on the way in, which was a blessing.“
Bypassing debris in the roadway and commuting in the dark, they finally arrived around 10 o’clock that night.
“Just from what I could see with my flashlight, I didn’t want daylight to crest.“
Schlarb wasted no time and quickly jumped into action, walking to the fire station, to grab any salvageable gear and supplies. There isn’t much since the station took on a lot of water, but he’s able to gather some stuff.
“I knew we had water and snacks here, so I emptied everything out my backpack and put water and food in there.“
It’s just the start of long shifts and working the next 15 days straight.
“Chief Walker looked at me towards the end of October and said go home,“ said Schlarb.
Schlarb said he was happy to work and assist and doesn’t think he went above and beyond.
“I did my job, I did what my contract said for me to do,“ said Schlarb. “Protect my town, do what I need to do for my citizens. In my eyes that’s what I did that night, I don’t think anything of it.
Also determined to get to work and help out is City Clerk Adrian Welle. Welle is also a support member of Mexico Beach Fire Rescue, which means he assists when he can with medical calls.
Welle and his wife rode out the storm in Port St. Joe at the Harmon House, with the firetruck and rescue truck parked nearby.
“My wife looked at me and said ‘We don’t have children, we’re more helpful here, we have a safe place to stay, so let’s just do it.’“
As soon as conditions improved after Hurricane Michael passed through, he jumped into the rescue truck and began driving around to assist in any way possible.
“4:30 that afternoon, I drove the rescue truck until I got enough flat tires, where I was driving on the rims.“
He continued to work continuously after the storm wearing several hats, and doing all he could to get resources and help to Mexico Beach.