In July 22 Issue
"I've seen and done stuff down there I'd never get a chance to if I hadn't gone," said Chris Murphy.
He is fresh back from working 14 days on the Gulf Coast dealing with the effects of the BP oil spill.
Murphy is a biological sciences technician at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, and has lived and worked there almost 15 years.
Hatchery Director James Gray said the call came down from Washington that this local office of the National Fish & Wildlife Service needed to send someone down to help out, and Murphy volunteered.
Since he was already in the national emergency responder database as a firefighter he was a natural choice to send down, Gray added.
Murphy said that because of his firefighter experience he'd already had some of the training needed, but still had online and in-person training to go through before he was assigned to Panama City Beach.
"He was lucky," Gray said. "Some people we know got a lot worse assignments- One guy was assigned to a barge and slept in one room with five other guys."
Murphy said his work consisted mostly of walking six or seven miles along the beach every day, for 14 days, in 12-hours-a-day shifts.
He said they were to report any tar-balls that washed ashore, explain to the public what to do if they saw any and how to contact them if they saw any wildlife in distress.
"We captured seven or eight birds in that time," Murphy said of his two-man team.
He said they would be on the lookout for animals in distress and would be dispatched to the scene if someone called in with a spotting.
"Mostly they were just exhausted," he said of the birds, and repeated later. "The birds were just exhausted otherwise they wouldn't have just let us walk up to them and cover them with a towel."
He said one animal they rescued had a broken wing and two others did have crude oil on them.
The birds were water birds, loons, gannets, pelicans and so on, Murphy said and their appearance on shore was not normal.
"They told us loons never come up on shore, but two of the birds we caught were loons," he explained.
After catching them they would take the animals to a trailer where a worker would check them out, clean them if needed, give them fluids and whatever other treatments were needed before releasing them.
He added that though the recreational fishing boats were still coming in with big catches, there were reports starting to come in of fish dying in the gulf, and turtles were a special concern.
There were reports of dead sea turtles coming in, and the whole time he was there other crews were digging up the nests of turtles to transport the eggs to NASA's Cape Kennedy facility where they could be hatched and then released on the Eastern Shore of Florida away from the oil that could kill them.
He had no notes, or photos to share of his trip and work though, since they had all been taken from him while he was out-processing through the Mobile Alabama Command Center.
"It was like nothing I'd ever seen before," Murphy said. "Maybe a thousand computers and desks in one room with people there from Fish & Wildlife, Homeland Security, all the agencies."
Gray said this was the first time that Washington has requested anyone from his facility to work at the disaster area, but he expects it won't be the last.
"We've got about 500 people down there- about two-thirds of them are from here in the Southeastern Region," Gray said.
With the disaster only about 100 days into what he said will likely be a multi-year clean-up he expects more of his staff to be assigned to the Gulf.
Personally, Murphy said he'd be willing to go again, though his wife would likely not be any happier about it than she was last time.
He added that his teen-aged daughter didn't seem to mind having dad out of the house for a while though.
"She asked me when I was going back," he said chuckling. "I told her not to worry she would be back in school before then anyway."