Virginia first responders remember Hurricane Isabel: 'Biggest event in my tenure'

Posted at 7:29 AM, Sep 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-22 12:28:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Hurricane Isabel toppled trees across Central Virginia 20 years ago, most people hunkered down inside their homes or community shelters.

Others, however, braved the elements to help neighbors in need.

Henrico County Battalion Chief Doug Reynolds appeared frequently on CBS 6 in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel coverage.

"Storm wise, that was the biggest event in my tenure," Reynolds said in a 2023 interview looking back at the storm. "It was a case where everybody was all hands on deck."

Hurricane Isabel 2003

Reynolds and fellow first responders served as a calming presence during a turbulent time.

"It was huge when you consider that pretty much everybody in Henrico lost power," Reynolds recalled about Isabel. "We lost water for the county for about two to three days. You didn’t have fresh drinking water."

Reynolds said behind the scenes, fire departments were stretched thin.

"On a normal day back then we used to run like 100-125 calls, that day we ran close to 600 calls," he said.

At the height of the storm, Henrico made the decision to pull crews off the roads for safety reasons. But exceptions were made when the calls of trees down on homes and cars continued.

Hurricane Isabel 2003

"You hated to send the men and women out it was so dangerous, but you just couldn’t not do it," Reynolds said.

Retired Chesterfield fire chief Paul Mauger also remembers when Isabel struck.

"I was working in the emergency operations center at the time," Mauger said in a 2023 interview on Isabel. "I remember long lines trying to get gasoline, I remember debris piles, it was a mess."

In the midst of his long hurricane shift, Mauger's family called and said a tree had fallen into the family's house.

Mauger's 20-minute drive home took nearly 90 minutes that day.

"When I got there, I had 17 trees down in my yard, no power," Mauger said.

Hurricane Isabel 2003

Once he got his family to safety, Mauger went right back to work.

"People wonder sometimes ‘Why do you have to go in now?’, I’m like, that’s what we’re here for," he said.

For these veteran first responders, the memories of Isabel remain fresh. Reynolds said it was important for everyone to remember the devastation.

"I think you just kind of forget how bad these storms can be," Reynolds said.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

Local News

How Claremont Beach recovered after Isabel: 'Everybody lost everything'

Wayne Covil
7:12 AM, Sep 21, 2023

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews

A Hand to Hold 2023

Help find these kids in Virginia’s foster system loving homes

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.