The 1996 Grand Haven High School graduate spent more than a decade in the U.S. Army, seeing plenty of combat while serving in the Middle East. He medically retired from the Army in 2014, and has since become a firefighter in the small town of Kure Beach near Wilmington, North Carolina.
Spencer hopes that his vast experiences have prepared him for what’s coming next — Hurricane Florence.
Florence is expected to make landfall on the East Coast late today or early Friday. The eye of the hurricane is predicted to hit Wilmington. While the small beach communities are under mandatory evacuation orders, Wilmington residents are free to stay, if they so choose.
Spencer’s staying put.
“I have an emergency radio, also have my pager, a police scanner,” he said during a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “In this community, a lot of people are staying. If I hear friends or family in need, I’ll go out and assist whoever needs help. Through most of the storm, obviously, you’ve got to stay hunkered down, but when it starts calming down and people are in need … we help each other out.”
Spencer has done his best to prepare for the coming storm. He has generators, his refrigerator and pantry are well stocked, and he has one bathtub and several buckets full of water. He also has his own water filtration system.
The second bathtub will be his bunker during the storm.
“I have multiple generators, 10 cans of gas, I have all the windows spiderweb taped, plywood cover the sliding doors, and probably a million candles,” Spencer said. “I have the generator plugged right into the house so I’ll be able to keep the refrigerator going, along with some kind of entertainment. I have one tub full of water for flushing and the other tub turned into my bed. I’m going to sleep in it, because it’s in a bathroom with no windows.”
Spencer has been receiving advice on how to weather the storm from his friend and fellow GHHS graduate, Brad VanHall. VanHall lives near Tampa, Florida. He was in that area when Hurricane Irma devastated parts of Florida last year.
“It’s funny, I was helping him out a year ago, and now I’m remembering what advice I gave him,” Spencer said. “And, on top of it, I’m finding out what he learned.”
One tip is to cover windows with a spiderweb pattern of duct tape. When the wind slams into the panes, the glass will bend inward and may break, but it won’t shatter.
“Between his current job and his military service, he was prepared with many of the things I suggested,” VanHall said of Spencer. “But he did ask me about the taping of the windows I mentioned.”
VanHall also recommended a battery-operated fan and topping off his vehicle with gas every day.
“I figured, even if you can’t drive anywhere, you could use it to recharge your phone if you lost power,” VanHall said. “Flashlights, no amount is too great. Also Visqueen (a brand of plastic sheeting used for waterproofing) and sand bags.”
Spencer said Wednesday that finding supplies at this point is difficult as many businesses are boarded up and closed, or their shelves are nearly empty. Gas is nearly impossible to come by, he said.
“Right now, I’m just double- and triple-checking everything that I have close to me — my ‘go bag’ with first aid kit, supplies I’ll need, a headlamp, just stuff to assist people,” he said.
As a firefighter, Spencer is EMT certified. He also received plenty of medical training in the Army.
“You didn’t always have a medic on your team, so you had to be able to medically assist everyone,” he said.
After graduating from Grand Haven High School, Spencer worked at the Grand Haven Tribune and attended Grand Valley State University. Like many others, his life changed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Spencer was so moved by what he saw that he dropped out of college and joined the Army.
“It changed my life drastically,” he said of the terrorist attacks. “I was one of the thousands who had a calling.”
Spencer said he now hopes he’s able to put his training to work to help people. He knows he’s as prepared as he can be, but realizes not everyone is so fortunate.
“I worry about everyone who hasn’t prepared,” he said. “I’m going to help out as much as I can.”
Hurricane Florence is currently classified as a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. The storm is expected to bring 40 inches of rain over the next few days, along with storm surges up to 15 feet. According to the National Hurricane Center, it’s one of the strongest storms to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades.
"This is not going to be a glancing blow,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Associate Administrator Jeff Byard said. “... This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast" from Thursday into the weekend.