Recovery

Harris County Public Safety Agencies to Receive Boats to Handle Future Flooding

'We saw what first responders were having to do. They were borrowing boats and kayaks and canoes. They couldn’t safely do the job they get up every day and go to work to do.'

by St. John Barned-Smith, Houston Chronicle / June 6, 2018

(TNS) - Local first responders are set Wednesday to receive equipment to help in handling future flooding disasters more safely.

The 100 Club, which supports families of officers injured or killed in the line of duty and provides equipment to local public safety agencies, is donating more than a dozen boats to the three agencies.

William Skeen, the organization’s executive director, said the decision to donate the boats came after Hurricane Harvey highlighted the lack of watercraft available to local emergency agencies.

“We saw what first responders were having to do. They were borrowing boats and kayaks and canoes. They couldn’t safely do the job they get up every day and go to work to do,” Skeen said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to help … and get them some equipment that will carry them through the next 25 years, because we know Houston is liable to flood again in the future.”

In the months since the storm, local leaders have had to confront the lack of resources that the fire department and other agencies had at their disposal to handle serious flooding events. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017, the fire department had just one high-water rescue vehicle, decrepit rescue boats and decades-old evacuation boats. The sheriff’s office — which has a marine reserve fleet — found some of its rescue efforts hampered because its fleet included deep-hulled fishing boats that got stuck in shallow and rapidly shifting currents.

In recent months, the city spent $2 million on a package that includes six “deuce-and-a-halfs,” or high water rescue vehicles capable of driving through flooded areas, at a cost of $75,000 each.

The council also voted to buy four rescue boats suited for use in swift water, and 10 “evacuation boats,” meant for moving people through calmer waters.

The fire department also has received private donations and pledges of three additional high-water rescue vehicles, six evacuation boats and two swift-water rescue boats.

Ruy Lozano, assistant chief with the Houston Fire Department, said the donations incur no cost for taxpayers.

“We’re really appreciative of William Skeen and the 100 Club,” he said.

After the storm, Houston Fire Chief Peña said he wanted enough resources to be able to station high-water rescue trucks across the city, and to double the number of evacuation boats and swift water rescue boats.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez thanked The 100 Club and said Hurricane Harvey revealed Harris County’s “true character” as the nation witnessed countless acts of heroism from first responders and average residents.

“When the next highwater disaster strikes, we will be even better equipped to save lives,” he said.

st.john.smith@chron.com

twitter.com/stjbs

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