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Report: Houston Fire Department has inadequate equipment to handle floods

Channel 2 obtains City of Houston Hurricane Harvey Preparation Plan

HOUSTON – A City of Houston Hurricane Harvey Preparation Plan, obtained by Channel 2 Investigates, shows the Houston Fire Department has shockingly little flood rescue equipment, and it appears to have contributed to millions of dollars in losses for the city in totaled fire trucks.

“The reason I think we sank six engine companies is (that) they’re not built for a high-water environment,” said Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena.

The Houston Fire Department lost 28 pieces of equipment during the storm, including six engines, which cost about $500,000 each to replace. Four “boosters," smaller trucks with on-board water supplies, are also total losses.

In a city of 2.3 million people that floods regularly, the Houston Fire Department only owns one high-water vehicle.

“The one high-water vehicle that the department maintains was not operational when it was delivered to the station," said Patrick Lancton, president of the Houston Firefighters Association. "There were mechanical problems with it."

An enterprising assistant chief was able to hand-deliver a specialized mechanic to get the truck running so that it was available just before the brunt of the storm hit.

Rescue boats, or a lack thereof, present another major problem.

The Houston Fire Department owned only six rescue boats going into Harvey -- and that number is now five, because one was lost in the storm.

“We don’t even have enough specialized equipment for the expected floods,” Pena said.

Pena said he is unable to position rescue boats in the normally expected flooded areas of Houston, because there are simply not enough to go around.

He surmised that 16 rescue boats would be adequate for that job; that's 11 more than the department currently has.

These issues come on the heels of an earlier Channel 2 Investigates report that shows Houston Fire Department fire trucks and ambulances have broken down on the way to emergencies, and not functioned properly when they’re needed most.

Just before the storm, a 15-year-old boy died a day after a Fire Department ambulance broke down two blocks from Texas Children’s Hospital.

Paramedics were forced to rush the teen, who had a pre-existing heart condition, to the hospital on foot.

It is unclear if the delay played a role in Roynal Gallow’s death. His family and friends have started a GoFund Me effort.

“That’s a situation we don’t want to find ourselves in,” Pena said.


 

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