Six members of the Somervell County Fire Department joined the Hurricane Harvey disaster relief effort near the Gulf coastline in southern Texas over the weekend, for a minimum deployment of seven days.
That’s according to SCFD Fire Chief Mark Crawford, who reported that a local strike force took a command truck as well as the department’s newest fire engine, which was purchased recently with state grant money designated for such items. The action was in response to a request from the state to assist and the six SCFD members volunteered for the trip, Crawford said.
Somervell County Judge Danny Chambers gave the approval for the deployment.
“Danny was quick and decisive,” Crawford said. “We made decisions together throughout the process about what risks we were willing to put our firefighters and equipment through.”
Three of the group members are paid firefighters and the other three are volunteers with the SCFD.
The local “strike team” members are Captain Spike Williams, Lieutenant T.J. Bunt, Engineer Matt Peelman and firefighters Nathan Huhn and Jamie Cashion.
"I am very proud of our guys,” Crawford stated in an email to the Glen Rose Reporter. “They went days with only brief moments of rest. There was no fresh water to bathe. The first night some slept outside under a porch awning of a damaged community center. During torrential downpours.
“These guys put their mental preparedness and physical training to full use and gave 100% serving their fellow man. I heard them when asked by the many people they were helping, ‘who sent you?’ They would say, the great state of Texas and the citizens of Somervell County!’ ”
Crawford stated that the SCFD has been training as part of a state emergency response team for several years, as part of a group known as TIFMAS (Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System). The chief noted that the county has the assurance of receiving that same mutual aid if it becomes necessary. He mentioned that was the case with local wildfires in 2007 and 2011.
Chambers and County Auditor Brian Watts both pointed out that the SCFD expenses will be reimbursed by the Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, through the Texas Department of Emergency Management.
“They are supposed to reimburse us for our people and our equipment,” Watts said. “Obviously, we want to help out our fellow Texans in a time of need. They will submit reimbursement forms.”
Crawford led the local strike team members under the command of a larger strike team from departments across the DFW Metroplex including Fort Worth, Cleburne, Red Oak, Little Elm and the DFW Airport. Crawford is a strike team leader trainee, and this deployment will help him finish the necessary qualifications to step up as the head of a larger team in the future, he said. For this deployment, he is assigned to assist and shadow Fort Worth Captain Kody Bridwell.
Several times, the larger strike team had to be split into two groups to meet the needs of the coastal area near Rockport before being moved inland to Houston. When that happened, Crawford stepped up to a lead position for half of the larger group.
The experience not only is of practical use in testing equipment, it also helps the strike team members in their preparedness.
”This is equally good for our firefighters. It gives them an explicable amount of knowledge and experience in the ways of true emergency management,” Crawford said. “It also put to test our equipment and our ideas of what we would need in a real disaster (in Somervell County).
“We recently equipped our command truck which proved invaluable due to the fact that cell phone coverage was weak at best and usually only through data.
“All communications between us and the state emergency operations center, and back to our county emergency management, were done through Somervell County equipment. However, we also realized how important a satellite phone is and how we were unable to communicate verbally with anyone."
Crawford said his strike team members should rest assured that they are helping the victims in major ways.
”In this disaster I keep hearing our guys frequently deflecting the notion that they are heroes by those they are helping; but I hope they reconcile that … in this case they definitely made a huge impact on their fellow man,” Crawford stated.