STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
MARBLE FALLS — State officials deployed a strike team Aug. 29 that includes Marble Falls and Horseshoe Bay firefighters to assist with rescue operations in the Houston area in the wake of the catastrophic effects related to Hurricane Harvey.
“They met this morning (Aug. 29) with all the other members of the strike team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Horseshoe Bay Fire Rescue Chief Joe Morris said. “They’re already on the ground working.”
The local firefighters are now part of Strike Team 119, which deployed from College Station to Kingwood, located just north of Houston.
“It’s thrilling to be able to give back,” Morris said. “Small communities such as Horseshoe Bay and Marble Falls, when things go wrong, we rely on others at the state level, so now we’re able to pay that back.
“The hardest part was choosing which (firefighters) to go because I had so many volunteer (for the assignment),” Morris said. Three Horseshoe Bay firefighters were deployed.
Horseshoe Bay Fire Rescue contributed a vehicle as well, while Marble Falls Fire Rescue contributed a firefighter and a rescue boat.
“The rescuers that are down there are overwhelmed, so the more help they can get, the quicker we can make the rescues,” Morris said.
Strike Team members operate under the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, which is managed by the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Created in 2006, the system’s most notable rescue efforts were during 2011 statewide wildland fires and Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm, devastated a swath of South Texas coastline from Corpus Christi to Matagorda Bay.
The storm — reported to have caused eight deaths, several injuries, and millions of dollars in property damage — also carried torrential rains and flooding into the Houston area and Southeast Texas.
First responders believe the catastrophic event could be the most challenging effort for rescue crews to date.
“This is an historic event,” Marble Falls Fire Chief Russell Sander said. “The images that come to mind; I’m speechless.”
Sander, who has 30 years in fire service, previously worked in Missouri City, which, at times, provided mutual aid southwest of Houston.
“Coming from that area and seeing some of those streets, it’s just unbelievable,” he said. “We wanted to help our colleagues in Southeast Texas.”
Sander said he believes the more assistance, the better the rescue efforts.
“Even the responders who have come from across the nation, they’re going to get tired,” Sander said. “That’s part of the deal about Texas is that we help each other out.”
Depending on the need, first responders on the strike team could participate in the rescue effort for as long as a week.
“I just pray for the safety of the rescuers and those in need of rescue,” Morris said.