Union: Many fire­fight­ers didn’t work dur­ing Har­vey

Texarkana Gazette - - STATE -

HOUS­TON—Thou­sands of Hous­ton fire­fight­ers were told to stay home at the height of Har­vey’s flood­ing even as calls for help over­whelmed 911 dis­patch­ers, the pres­i­dent of the city’s fire­fight­ers union said Fri­day.

In an in­ter­view with Hous­ton tele­vi­sion sta­tion KHOU , Marty Lanc­ton said that the fire depart­ment could have done more dur­ing the storm.

“I don’t want to hear about lack of re­sources,” Lanc­ton said. “Emer­gen­cies are some­thing you pre­pare for. You don’t have the an­swers, but you pre­pare. In this case, they weren’t pre­pared.”

On Sun­day, Aug. 27, as fast-rush­ing wa­ter chased peo­ple onto their rooftops, about 3,000 fire­fight­ers were in­structed not to re­port to work, ac­cord­ing to Lanc­ton, an ag­o­niz­ing or­der for many eager to as­sist with res­cues.

“We’re sorry,” Lanc­ton said, fight­ing back tears. “Ev­ery Hous­ton fire­fighter would put their life on the line for any­body with­out ques­tion, with a mo­ment’s no­tice, and this is not dif­fer­ent.”

Hous­ton Fire Chief Sam Pena ac­knowl­edged that three-quar­ters of the force was asked not to re­port, but said that the depart­ment was fully staffed.

“Ev­ery­thing we had avail­able, we de­ployed in an­tic­i­pa­tion of that,” Pena said.

The de­ci­sion against a full re­call, which Pena said was made based on staffing needs dur­ing past dis­as­ters, left a crew of 900 fire­fight­ers re­spon­si­ble for 650 square miles of Hous­ton. Many worked two or three days with­out a break.

Pena said he hadn’t seen the data yet for re­sponse times from that Sun­day but that in hind­sight, he would have brought in more fire­fight­ers to make sure crews could ro­tate out each day.

The de­ci­sion to not de­ploy more fire re­spon­ders struck a nerve in south­east Hous­ton, where Deb­bie Martinez and her 3-month-old grand­daugh­ter had waited for help as her home filled with wa­ter.

“There could have been peo­ple here to help us get out of here,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

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