Working in stagnant water, mid-90 degree temperatures, and swarms of mosquitoes. Members of the Toledo Fire Department performed searches in more than 100 residences — many times by boat — in five Texas cities that were struck by Hurricane Harvey.
But what stood out was the spirit of Texans recovering from the utter devastation following Hurricane Harvey, said Toledo Fire Department Deputy Chief John Kaminski.
“What I can bring back to you and tell you about Texans, is their resilience, their faith, and their determination is inspiring to say the least,” said Deputy Chief Kaminski, who led a special response team of Toledo firefighters during their 8-day trip to Texas to assist with hurricane relief efforts.
Despite challenging conditions, among eight-foot-high piles of drywall, furnishings on lawns, and molding homes, Texans provided for one another, and the firefighters, said Deputy Chief Kaminski.
One day, the team was working in a heavily-flooded area, but stopped for lunch at an area church. Those serving the meal asked where firefighters were working. It was their neighborhood.
“These people, instead of going in their neighborhood and trying to save what’s left of their home, they were there handing out commodities and resources to other people, their neighbors, their friends, their family. It’s that faith, it’s inspiring,” he said. “They lost everything but were willing to give us something, and that’s a good thing to bring back.”
The deputy chief, along with Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, provided a post-trip analysis Tuesday during a news conference at the Toledo Fire and Rescue Headquarters. The eight member team left the area on Friday, and returned home Saturday.
“Our firefighters always believe that community is not just within the city limits but also where there are needs,” Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson said.
The team departed from Toledo at approximately 1 p.m. Sept. 1, after receiving a reactivation request from Texas EMA officials that morning. They arrived in Texas after a 22-hour drive.
On Sept. 2, they arrived at a staging area in College Station, Texas, and then were told to wait as other agencies were also arriving, said Deputy Chief Kaminski.
“I would say that was probably the toughest part because ... we were amped up, we were ready to go and help,” he said.
They trained for what types of snakes, alligators, or people they may encounter.
The Toledo team then deployed to Orange, Texas, which is more than 100 miles east of Houston, to assist with search and rescue operations. Orange, Texas, covers approximately 380 square miles.
“They’re well into recovery mode,” Deputy Chief Kaminski said. “We wanted to make sure we were there and that we could make a difference in doing that transition from rescue to recovery. I’m quite confident we played a hand in that.”
The team encountered several dead animals — both domestic and wild — and saw no loss of human life, he said. Generally, team members did not see anything that they may not see during their day-to-day operations at the Toledo Fire Department, the deputy chief said.
“It was doing house checks, making sure people had gotten out. Those that chose to stay on their own, that they had enough commodities and resources to weather the rest of the storm. No pun intended,” Deputy Chief Kaminski said. “Everybody, at least that we encountered, did.”
The deputy chief commended his team for their work.
“They were mission ready, mission focused throughout. Once you saw the devastation and what was needed down there, you didn’t tell the team anything, they just stayed mission ready,” he said.
Deputy Chief Kaminski said the team will receive any emotional support needed, along with medical check ups.
Mayor Hicks-Hudson said she did not see the trip as a financial or personnel burden. Reimbursement will come through the FEMA processes, she said.
“That wasn’t the first priority,” she said. “The first priority, there was a call and we were able to answer that call. Whether it’s here locally or some place else. That shows what our community’s about and I always want to be that compassionate community.”
As of Tuesday, a Toledo Fire Department team has not been called to Florida to assist with Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
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