In the Eye of Ida’s Wrath

Hoover alumnus travels to Louisiana to help with hurricane relief as first responder

Alexa Ogilvie, Editor In Chief

As Hoover’s most recent graduating class begins their time at college and goes out into the world, one alumnus chose to serve and to help others in one of America’s strongest hurricanes to date. Hitting the southern belt of the United States, nearly sixteen years since Katrina and stronger than the latter, Ida made landfall Aug. 29. Class of 2021 graduate Kyle Capozzi decided to go down into multiple COVID hotspot areas and areas affected by Ida to help alleviate the damage that had been done, and was still being done, by the storm.
Capozzi had been working as an Emergency Medical Technician with American Medical Response and as a firefighter and EMT with the city of North Canton. While at the NCFD, he would get an email that would put everything in motion.
“Before I was sent on the hurricane, I was actually sitting at NCFD station 2 on shift,” he said. “I got an email stating they were looking for employees for a FEMA deployment. I was given a 14-hour notice from the time I received the email asking for people to go and when I left my house for the airport. I was notified of my flight plans six hours before I took off.”
Capozzi’s brother, Owen, a sophomore at Hoover, recalled what it was like to see his older brother get the call and see him travel south, into the full force of Ida.
“It was very mind boggling,” he said. “Kyle had only gotten a call a few hours in advance, so we had to help him get ready for his flight. The whole time he was waiting to leave for the airport, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘there’s no way this is actually happening.’ But sure enough, he said goodbye to me at around 3 a.m. as he was leaving for the airport.”
Capozzi’s family wasn’t the only group of people affected by this sudden deployment. Fellow 2021 alumnus Matt Kiraly, who currently attends Kent State University, also spoke on seeing his best friend head toward the storm.
“I knew that feeling I had before, since he had left once prior [to administer COVID vaccines in Missouri,] but this is a whole different game,” Kiraly said. “They’re fighting a natural disaster and I was a little bit nervous for them and everyone that was affected down there, but I knew that he and so many others would be okay.”
As Capozzi left his friends and family to work FEMA relief, he began the long journey down towards the storm. As he prepared to travel south, he knew what he had to do.
“The travel process was relatively smooth,” Capozzi said. “We had to fly into Georgia, as that was the nearest site for us to go that was still safe and could handle the hundreds of people coming in. As far as what we could and couldn’t bring, we were given a list of stuff that we highly recommended, as we were expected to be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours we were down there — stuff like water purifiers, flashlights, bedding, water, food. It was all up to us.”
Once he was down there, Capozzi went straight to work, moving supplies and working with other FEMA relief members. As he was down there, he kept a day-to-day journal to keep track of everything he did and saw as he was there.
“The first week wasn’t horrible; the first five days we were stationed in Jackson, Mississippi staging,” Capozzi said. “We just bonded with our teams until our strike team was called to head to Louisiana. Once we were transferred to Louisiana we were staying at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. There were three warehouse-like buildings, in the far right was the National Guard; the middle was for the FEMA teams; to the left was a homeless shelter. It was nerve-racking, and driving past all the damage really put it all in perspective.”
Back home, as Capozzi kept helping all he could, his brother, Owen could not help but worry. With limited communications, Owen was constantly trying to make sure that they were in contact whenever they could.
“Talking to him just made things feel even more unreal,” Owen said, speaking on their few conversations, “seeing where my brother was sleeping and him Face-timing me when he could. I saw him sleeping in the back of an ambulance, on plastic cots in a dome, and many more harsh places. He was usually always busy, so whatever time we got to talk was usually it for the day.”
After many days of being down with FEMA, Capozzi was soon given a call that everyone he knew was so ready for him to receive: his call to come home.
“The feeling of coming home was like none other,” Capozzi said. “I was very thankful for my opportunity to help people out and help the communities, but when I found out I was being demobilized and sent home, I couldn’t have been any happier. Coming home after the deployment wasn’t the same and probably won’t be for a long time. I’m very thankful for where I live in Ohio, that I don’t have to really worry about that kind of stuff, whereas people down in Louisiana have to plan on a natural disaster hitting once a year.”
Kiraly, who works with Capozzi on the radio station Q92 calling high school football games, spoke on how it was interesting to hear what Capozzi saw during the relief effort.
“It was interesting to not only hear him tell the stories about being in Hurricane Ida, but also the stories of meeting new people he was working with and what they did with their downtime,” Kiraly said.
Capozzi, now home and resuming work with both the NCFD and Q92, thought back on some of the more trying times he dealt with while south.
“Some of the more worrying things I saw were mostly just the damage and flooding,” he said. “Driving through neighborhoods with trees on houses and roofs torn off — it was scary to see what we were getting into.”
Despite having gone through all he did, Capozzi reflects on his work in Georgia and Louisiana. As he continues in his work in North Canton, he will never forget the work he did, the people he met, and the communities he helped.
“The most heartwarming thing I saw was really just the bonding between the teams,” he said. “Everyone says that EMS is a brotherhood or sisterhood. These deployments really show that I became best friends with guys from Texas, California, New York and many other places that I probably would’ve never met in my life otherwise.”