HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department showed off its expanded high water rescue fleet. After Hurricane Harvey, the department increased the number of its 5-ton high water rescue vehicles — refurbished military vehicles — to serve during flooding events.
The tall, red vehicles have proven themselves to be useful.
“We learned a valuable lesson during Harvey. We learned that these trucks are what is absolutely necessary during flood events,” said Beau Moreno, Houston Fire Department’s Marine Team Coordinator.
In 2017, the department had one during its Harvey response. Now, there are nine high water rescue vehicles, each with a 10-foot intake.
“Everything in this vehicle is military-grade, so it’s made to take the roughest terrain,” Moreno said.
The vehicle, which was once used by the army in the late 1980′s and 90′s, can fit at least 30 people. However, with COVID-19, the department is having to practice social distancing and plans to take half as many people.
"We're down to 15," Moreno said.
That means more trips, which they said they are ready to make. The 5-ton vehicles will be deployed in flood-prone areas including Kingwood, Braeswood and Meyerland, according to Moreno.
“On a normal fire truck, the intake is at 24 inches — so this one is at 10 feet,” Moreno said. “So, from 2 feet to 10 feet, that makes a big difference in how we’re able to help people.”
However, the team doesn't plan on pushing the vehicle's capabilities to the limit.
“This here is 30 inches — this is where our guidelines say we have to keep it, but this truck can comfortably take 3.5 feet of water,” Moreno said. He and his team have trained extensively on how to use the equipment in high water.
“Initially Pre-Harvey, we had 60 people that had access to water equipment. Now post Harvey, we have 140 people that are issued their own water gear,” Moreno said.
The firefighters are divided between the Water Strike Team, which trains for still water rescues, and the Technical Rescue Team which trains for swift water. They’ve done a lot of training.
“4500 hours of training just this year,” Moreno said. “We have 21 flat-bottom boats, 11 swift-water boats and nine jet skis.”
Now, they also have personal protective equipment kits loaded with 300 masks. Moreno said people are asked to wear masks, but if they don’t have one, the firefighters will have them for the people they are assisting.
The Houston Police Department also has 20 of the same kind high water rescue vehicles also stationed throughout the city.