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Chief puts deadline on HFD rescue boat training

Family of flood victims push city for access to records

HOUSTON – The city’s acting fire chief said he will have rescue crews with the Houston Fire Department trained on how operate rescue boats in fast moving flood waters before June 16.

Acting Fire Chief Rodney West made the announcement in an interview this week with KPRC Channel 2 News.

Training to operate swift water boats had been a contentious issue between rescuers, who said they have not had proper training in years, and the city. Last year, then-Mayor Annise Parker told investigative reporter Jace Larson that firefighters had all the training they needed.

Her comments ignited discussion among firefighters who contend that was not true.

Alvin White, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Union, has long pushed the city to hold such training.

“It is a vital part,” he said. “We need to have swift water boat training for members.”

This month, rescuers received water training to teach them how to react if they or a member of the public falls into swift water. Training on how to operate a boat in fast-moving water is different.

West could not say when or where specifically the swift water boat training will take place, and a request for information to a spokesman with the Fire Department was not answered Thursday.

The acting chief did pledge to have the training done by his mid-June deadline.

The new training will be one of several changes made after the Memorial Day flood when eight people died.

The Fire Department has significantly upgraded the type of life jackets that citizens wear on rescue boats. More rescuers are staffed on each rescue boat during rainstorms.

“Under the mayor’s direction, the city deploys high water vehicles in under an hour when citizens need to be rescued,” West said.

The family of Shirley and Jack Alter, who were among three people who died when a Houston Fire Department rescue boat capsized, have filed a court document asking the city to turn over information that could help assess blame.

Rory Alter, the son of Shirley and Jack, said his family wants to know if any companies who worked with the city or supplied equipment may be at fault.

So far, the city has been reluctant to turn over documents to the Alters or members of the media.

“Our concerns is that the lessons that led to our parents’ deaths won’t be learned in time to prevent another tragedy from happening. We hope we can get information quickly and out to the public because that’s what any kind of legal claim is about,” Rory Alter said. “It’s about finding out what happened.”

If you have a tip about this story or another story idea for KPRC’s Jace Larson, email or text him at jlarson@kprc.com or 832-493-3951.