HFD firefighters go through high-water vehicle training

HOUSTON – Preparations for the rainfall and potential flash floods are underway in the City of Houston. The Houston Fire Department's new Marine Group is helping to train firefighters in charge of operating the group's new high-water rescue vehicles in anticipation for this week's rain.

The Houston Fire Department doubled its water rescue fleet this year with the help of the city, donors and the Firefighters of Houston Foundation's corporate sponsors. The department said Mayor Sylvester Turner has allocated over $20 million for fire department assets, equipment and training in the last two fiscal years.

Thursday, firefighters with Station 78 trained on their new high-water rescue vehicles in an old shopping center parking lot in West Houston near Highway 6 and Westheimer. The department now has eight high-water rescue vehicles (HWVs) -- four of which were purchased by the city and the other four donated by the Firefighters of Houston Foundation's corporate sponsors, which include Stardig, Civic, KBR and Firehouse Subs. Seven of those vehicles will be ready to be deployed if so needed to assist Houston and other areas.

READ: HFD doubles water rescue fleet, increases water-rescue training after Harvey

"It's got lights on it, sirens on it, the PA system on it. It's got everything we need," said Senior Capt. David Colaiacomo, who helps train with the Marine Group.

The training comes in tandem with the Houston's Office of Emergency Management's message to prepare. Officials said they are working with agencies like the fire department to be sure they are ready to assist if needed.

"We're under a flash flood watch now in our Southeastern portion," said Houston OEM spokesperson Cory Stottlemyer. "We've been prepared last week for this week's weather. We know with the potential developments in the Gulf -- while it's going to hit south of us -- we're still going to see some rainfall."

"The Fire Department has sent out an asset list of all the equipment that is operationally ready as of now in preparation for the heavy rain," said Marine Group leader Joshua Vogel.

In Thursday's training, firefighters with Station 78 got comfortable moving the HWV.

"The cones get a little shorter as they move in and they have to judge their distance," Colaiacomo said. "It's just not something the firemen are used to driving. The wheels are in front of the people versus in the firetruck they're behind where we sit ... It's hard to turn."

With an 8-foot air intake, the 5-ton, fully-equipped, refurbished '90s military vehicle can drive comfortably in 30 inches of water.

The vehicle can seat 14 people and four firefighters.

"We can probably fit more, depending on the situation," Colaiacomo said.

It is also equipped with military grade first-aid, oxygen and life jackets. It has a pole for firefighters to use to gauge how high the water is ahead of them.

The city urges residents to be informed and register for live updates using their AlertHouston program.

These firefighters said they will be ready if needed.

"This truck will help us immensely," Colaciacomo said. "We were using dump trucks for most of Harvey. Now we have quite a few of these high water vehicles stationed all over town -- anytime it looks bad or looks like there will be imminent flooding, chief calls us in."

The department said since fiscal year 2017, the city has purchased eight fire engines, five aerial apparatuses, 24 ambulances and ambulance chassis, 44 light-duty staff vehicles, personal protective equipment, and replaced the radios/in-mask communications systems. The projected apparatus purchases for fiscal year 2019 includes 10 fire engines, three aerial apparatuses and eight ambulances.