AP NEWS

Katy FD ready for flooding with new equipment

September 4, 2018

Katy Fire Chief Russell Wilson knew there was a problem when the rising floodwaters brought on by Hurricane Harvey began rushing toward the Katy Fire Department station at 1417 Avenue D.

“The water actually started entering the station and I had to issue the order that we aren’t responding,” Wilson said.

The fire department’s contingent of firefighting vehicles such as ladder trucks and pumpers are perfectly adequate for dealing with a house fire but this deluge was something else completely. KFD trucks were simply not high enough.

“You couldn’t even see where the curbs were,” Wilson said. “We had a couple of booster trucks that are designed for grass fires but they weren’t high enough.”

A few hours later, Katy residents with boats began showing up at the station and offering to help. Wilson gladly took them up on the officer.

“I set up an operations field command right there in the station. That was the first time we were able to deploy anybody out of there since we had gotten trapped,” he said.

One resident with an airboat that can skim across the surface of the water told Katy officials one of his rescue missions in the Old Katy area was especially tough.

“He thought he had made a great mistake. His airboat was having problems dealing with the current and swift was that was coming down from the north — right down Avenue D,” said Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner.

It wasn’t until the Texas National Guard arrived with their trucks and fleet of boats capable of easily churning through high water that large scale rescues in the hardest-hit regions of Katy were able to be undertaken. Wilson would send the National Guard soldiers out into the flooded area along with a Katy firefighter to act as their guide.

“The National Guard didn’t know where to go,” Wilson said.

Now the Katy Fire Department will be able to begin rescuing flood victims almost immediately. Soon after the waters began receding, Katy officials began looking into acquiring some of the equipment on their own. The city spent about $5,000 to pick up a powerful Army surplus truck that can ford flooded areas and about $13,000 on the kind of rubber Zodiac-type boats used in water rescue missions.

“We’ve also trained a number of our firefighters on swift water rescue,” Brawner said, who called the investment “well worth the money.” “I hope we never have to use it but at least we have taken the first step.”

With the addition of the new equipment, Wilson said his firefighters are ready to respond to the next flood.

“We can take that truck into a neighborhood and we can take that boat into a neighborhood,” he said. “We’ll start those operations immediately.”

The truck won’t only be sent into storage until a flooded, Wilson said. With the addition of a portable and self-contained firefighting apparatus called a “skid unit,” their elevated piece of army surplus will have a dual mission fighting grass fires in areas often inaccessible to other vehicles.

“We can drive that into any field we want. We actually have the best of both worlds,” Wilson said.

Brawner said it was important for Katy residents to know the fire department will be able to respond to the next flood.

“I hope we never have to use it,” Brawner said. “But it’s really important for our citizens to know we’re going to be ready.”

mike.glenn@chron.com

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