Fire agen­cies, schools join in Har­vey re­lief

Swift wa­ter res­cue team, boat crews de­ployed

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - STEVEN MROSS

As Texas con­tin­ues to strug­gle with mas­sive flood­ing in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, a swift wa­ter res­cue team from the Hot Springs Fire Depart­ment and boat groups from area vol­un­teer fire de­part­ments were de­ployed to the area Wed­nes­day morn­ing to help.

“They have a dis­as­ter of far-reach­ing pro­por­tions down there and it’s not go­ing to end any­time soon,” Hot Springs Fire Chief Ed Davis said Wed­nes­day. “There will be stand­ing wa­ter in those ar­eas for some time. These guys will likely be get­ting to folks who, at least un­til now, have been to­tally on their own.”

Lt. Kenny Tal­bert, fire­fighter Blake Har-

mon and driver Ricky Ilen­feld, all mem­bers of the depart­ment’s swift wa­ter res­cue team, and Train­ing Of­fi­cer Ty Far­ris left Wed­nes­day bound for the Texas A&M En­gi­neer­ing Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice train­ing fa­cil­ity at Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas, which will serve as a stag­ing area for emer­gency per­son­nel.

“Once we get there we will find out what they need us to do,” Far­ris said. “We don’t know what lo­ca­tion we will be go­ing to or what our as­sign­ment will be at this point.”

Far­ris said his role will be to han­dle lo­gis­tics “so they don’t have to worry about that and can con­cen­trate on the res­cue side. My big­gest part will be if they need any­thing I will work with the com­mand struc­ture down there to get it for them.”

He said they were one of 11 de­part­ments in Arkansas de­ploy­ing teams Wed­nes­day through the Arkansas Fire Boat Com­mit­tee, not­ing Grant and Clark coun­ties were also send­ing swift wa­ter teams like theirs. “I don’t know if they are send­ing boats or not. We got dou­ble tasked and put in both groups, swift wa­ter and the boat groups.”

Three boat op­er­a­tors from Jessieville’s vol­un­teer fire depart­ment and four from the Lons­dale depart­ment are also part of the de­ploy­ment, Bo Robert­son, Gar­land County’s di­rec­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment, said Wed­nes­day.

He said the re­quest for help was is­sued through the emer­gency man­age­ment as­sis­tance com­pact be­tween Texas and Arkansas. Of­fi­cials in the af­fected area re­quested swift wa­ter res­cue teams from state of­fi­cials in Texas, he said, and the re­quest then went out to the five states in Re­gion 6 of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

The Arkansas Depart­ment of Emer­gency Man­age­ment’s Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter passed on the re­quest to lo­cal agen­cies who will be re­im­bursed as a re­sult of the fed­eral dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion in Texas and the re­quest be­ing is­sued through the emer­gency man­age­ment as­sis­tance com­pact, Robert­son said.

Davis said the HSFD “never self-de­ploys. We al­ways wait un­til some­one con­tacts us and re­quests our as­sis­tance. It’s more struc­tured that way and you’re not pro­vid­ing some­thing they don’t re­ally want.”

While Hot Springs fire­fight­ers had pre­vi­ously re­sponded after Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in Au­gust 2005, they were in­volved in search and res­cue ef­forts go­ing through ar­eas look­ing for sur­vivors that didn’t in­volve wa­ter res­cues.

“This will be the first time we’ve de­ployed our boat and swift wa­ter res­cue team out of state,” Far­ris said, not­ing they had pre­vi­ously done some wa­ter res­cues in the city and county, in­clud­ing last spring after the Big Mazarn over­flowed.

Far­ris said the fact they are needed for res­cues five days after the storm hit “tells you the amount of rain they’ve had. This is not typ­i­cal. They had like 55 inches as of last night. This hur­ri­cane just stuck around.”

He said there was some con­cern about the rem­nants of the storm hitting Arkansas “so we might have flood­ing here,” but he noted it looked like it was mov­ing to the south­east and the most re­cent lo­cal fore­cast was for 1 or 2 inches of rain.

Far­ris stressed there would still be HSFD swift wa­ter res­cue team mem­bers stay­ing here. “They won’t have a boat, but with an inch or so of rain they shouldn’t need one. If they have to have a boat they can get one from Lake Hamil­ton (Fire Depart­ment) or get a flat bot­tom from some­body.”

The team’s 15-foot Zo­diac in­flat­able boat can hold mul­ti­ple peo­ple as needed. “We had about 13 peo­ple on it dur­ing train­ing at DeGray (Lake),” Tal­bert said.

He said the amount of peo­ple it is safe to carry “de­pends on the con­di­tions and the cur­rent. If it’s a heavy cur­rent we will try to take as few as pos­si­ble at a time so the boat rides higher in the wa­ter. We can drop peo­ple off and go back.”

Davis praised the team, not­ing, “These guys have a proven track record of want­ing to be the folks to make a dif­fer­ence in the community. They train a lot on their own time to be pre­pared to deal with swift wa­ter emer­gen­cies. I have ev­ery con­fi­dence in them they will go down and rep­re­sent us well.”

Davis said they are al­ready mak­ing plans for another de­ploy­ment and will ro­tate those that did not go this time to re­place the crew leav­ing Wed­nes­day as needed.

He said the flood­ing in Texas “is re­port­edly a record for the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.,” not­ing, “It’s pretty amaz­ing. One ar­ti­cle said this was an 800-year flood.”

He said after it hit it seemed like the hur­ri­cane “was kind of bounc­ing off the coast back into the ocean. It wasn’t mov­ing. Just kind of os­cil­lat­ing. With those kind of mois­ture lev­els, it’s just dis­as­trous.”

The Sen­tinel-Record/Richard Ras­mussen

LOAD­ING UP: Hot Springs Fire Depart­ment Lt. Kenny Tal­bert, left, and driver Ricky Ilen­feld, both mem­bers of the depart­ment’s swift wa­ter res­cue team, load their 15-foot Zo­diac res­cue boat as they pre­pare to leave for Texas Wed­nes­day morn­ing. A four-man crew is de­ploy­ing to the storm rav­aged, flooded area to help in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

The Sen­tinel-Record/Richard Ras­mussen

TEAM EF­FORT: From left, Hot Springs Fire Depart­ment fire­fighter Blake Har­mon, driver Ricky Ilen­feld, Lt. Kenny Tal­bert, and Train­ing Of­fi­cer Ty Far­ris, mem­bers of the depart­ment’s swift wa­ter res­cue team, pre­pare Wed­nes­day to de­ploy to Texas to help with res­cue and re­cov­ery ef­forts in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

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