A St. Clair firefighter shared his experience as a volunteer helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas late August.
Tim Ware and Billy Williams from the St. Clair Fire Protection District were part of the Missouri Task Force 1 that helped evacuate and rescue nearly 400 people and many pets in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Union Fire Protection District employees Jeremy Lasswell, Jake Heller, Mark Strubberg and Justin Hidritch, along with Union residents Kevin Wissmann and Dale Straatmann also participated in the task force.
The Category 4 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast Friday, Aug. 25.
MO-TF1 is one of 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urban search and rescue task forces in the country. It is sponsored by the Boone County Fire Protection District.
The men served in a variety of roles, including logistics, ground support and as part of the rescue team.
Their deployment to Texas lasted 13 days beginning Aug. 24. The men were a part of a Type III team, which had 35 members and 10 ground support personnel.
Ware was a boat operator during search and rescues, as well as a hazardous material specialist for the task force.
On Aug. 28, in Katy, Texas, west of Houston, the team had six boats in operation that searched streets and subdivisions for stranded flood victims, according to Ware.
“The team made 316 rescues, evacuations plus 35 pets by boats,” Ware said.
“One family had high levels of (carbon monoxide) and were rescued and transported by ambulance. They were running a generator inside their house.”
Teams would search for people door-to-door. Operational periods were from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On Aug. 29, the task force moved to Houston fire station 34, located northeast of downtown near Dodson Lake Park. Ware said 60 people and numerous pets were rescued that day.
“We weren’t able to take our trucks into the area right off the bat, we had to use city of Houston’s dump trucks to get to the area,” Ware said.
The task force remained in staging at Houston Fire Station 44 on Aug. 30 to repair and replace equipment as needed, Ware said.
The following day, they were assigned to train with Houston firefighters on GPS for wide area search using the FEMA urban search and rescue response system procedures.
“The GPS stems from lessons learned during Hurricane Katrina where papers were being used, which made it difficult.
“In flooding like this, it is very difficult – if not impossible – to see street signs and numbers on houses,” Ware said.
He added that this was the first time all 28 search and rescue teams were deployed.
“The size of Houston was enormous and the amount of flooding that they had,” he said.
“Going to different areas, helping out with different man made and natural disasters” are a couple of reasons why Ware joined the task force. He has been part of the task force for three years. Last year, he helped out when Hurricane Matthew hit.
“It is a good learning experience; each deployment is. You learn something new on each one,” Ware said.
“I really do appreciate my family and my employer letting me go.”
Along with his own certifications in swift water rescue and wide area search, the taskforce requires extensive training. Ware said initial training took place every weekend for four months that focused specific disciplines and guidelines.
He participates in ongoing trainings once a quarter for the taskforce either through online or physical courses.
Members are deployed by their availability and as needed for disasters.