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August 23, 2012 12:10 am


When the quake hit, volunteer firefighter and then-Louisa High student Donald 'Diesel' Embrey helped evacuate people and tend to the injured. He will join the Navy in January.


Donald "Diesel" Embrey was in his British literature class when it happened a year ago today. At the time, the Louisa County High School senior didn't know what was going on except that everything around him was shaking.

"The first few minutes were like 'What just happened?'" the now 18-year-old said Wednesday. "After I got my mind clear, I knew I had to do something."

The magnitude-5.8 earthquake took the Louisa County community by surprise last Aug. 23.

The Louisa teenager, who volunteers for the Mineral Volunteer Fire Department and the Louisa County Rescue Squad, saw the tiles from the ceiling falling down on his classmates, and went from student mode to response mode.

Embrey helped students evacuate, and performed triage on injured students at the school.

He later responded to the Mineral firehouse, where he worked to establish an emergency evacuation shelter and triage center. He also helped secure damaged buildings and search for injured residents.

"You think that something like that doesn't happen in Virginia," he said. "But it did."

That wasn't the first time Embrey has had to deal with an unexpected natural disaster. Just six months earlier, in February 2011, he responded to a massive 2,500-acre brush fire in Louisa.

His emergency response efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Embrey was one of 125 applicants chosen to serve on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Youth Preparedness Council. The 14-member council consists of youths between the ages of 13 and 17, and will "voice their opinions, experiences, ideas and solutions to help strengthen the nation's resiliency for all types of disasters," FEMA said in a news release. The youth council members will be providing their perspective and taking information back to their communities.

"I've learned some new things and I gave some knowledge as well," Embrey said about the council's first meeting earlier this month.

During the roundtables, the council met with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate and discussed steps to strengthen the nation's overall resiliency.

"This has been an opportunity for members of the Youth Preparedness Council to share their ideas, experiences, solutions and questions on youth disaster preparedness with FEMA, other federal agencies and national organizations," Fugate said. "Engaging youth is critical to including the whole community in national preparedness. The Youth Preparedness Council is contributing to set a national agenda for how young people play a role in emergency management."

Embrey said the group, which will meet via telephone conference in the future, is currently working on developing community projects. He said he would like to plan a community day for Louisa to promote community awareness.

The earthquake's epicenter was in the town of Mineral, which was later declared a major disaster area. Louisa County suffered damage to homes, businesses and school buildings. Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Louisa County High had to be torn down and will be rebuilt. Students at those schools are currently attending classes in modular units.

FEMA awarded more than $22 million to help rebuild the schools, and also provided more than $13.1 million in disaster relief funds to more than 5,000 residents of Fredericksburg and the counties of Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Goochland, King George, Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania.

Embrey, who has had the nickname "Diesel" ever since he can remember, said he is excited about this opportunity to work with FEMA and give back to his community--something he has been doing since he was 10, when he started volunteering for the Louisa Rescue Squad.

At 16, he joined the Mineral Volunteer Fire Department. He is also a Community Emergency Response Team volunteer and is certified in CPR/first aid and incident command structure. The 2012 graduate joined the Navy and leaves for boot camp in January.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419

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