Houston, TX United States
Story by Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt, Texas State Guard
HOUSTON – A team of Texas Guardsmen, swift-water rescue technicians and Harris County Sheriff deputies worked together as a hybrid rescue team to rescue and air-lift multiple people from severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, to safe locations, in northeast Houston, August, 28, 2017.
Soldiers from the Texas National Guard’s 272nd Engineer Battalion and a swift-water rescue team from Texas Task Force 1 arrived in a severely flooded neighborhood after being dispatched to an area cut off by flood waters with approximately 50 victims that needed evacuating. Upon arriving at the designated location, a small church, they found more than 80 people at the church and another 60 at the gas station next door.
“When we first got the call the information we were given was that there was a request of 50 people that needed to be evacuated, when we arrived that number more than doubled,” said David Holly, Texas Task Force 1 swift-water rescue technician.
The pastor of the church said he had several people needing medical attention.
There were 18 patients, some on oxygen, some dialysis patients, others with deficits from past or chronic conditions and even some with mental handicaps, all needing medical attention.
With the severity of the medical needs of those patients, the Task Force 1 paramedics decided it would be safer to evacuate the patients by air, due to the rising water in the area.
The team setup a landing zone for the aerial pickup and radioed in for an air evacuation. While waiting for the helicopters the task force heard there were people trapped in the adjacent neighborhood.
Using a Texas National Guard high-profile vehicle, they launched their zodiac boats and searched the neighborhood for victims.
“I thought it was pretty cool that we are able to provide transportation to the task force,” said Texas National Guard Sgt. Janna Bergeron, 272nd Engineer Battalion. “We give them the ability to be able to perform these types of missions.”
The team rescued 30 people from that neighborhood, bringing the total number of victims to 170 needing evacuation.
Within an hour, three U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopters from the Dusty Dogs Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron, arrived and took turns landing to pick up and evacuated the flood victims with special medical needs.
During this process, the flood waters continued to rise, making vehicle extraction more dangerous.
To ensure the safety of each flood victim, the joint team continued to evacuate all of their victims by air.
While the Task Force team prepared the victims for evacuation, Texas Guardsmen helped secure the area for the arriving helicopters.
First responders say that this type of joint-teamwork is what is helping save lives.
“It is hard being in a situation knowing we could help everyone but not knowing if we would have time to get them all due to the rising flood waters,” Texas National Guard 2nd Lt. Joseph Fiasco, 272nd Engineer Battalion. “It was amazing that we had the aerial support to come in and get the victims.”
These types of missions show the effectiveness of teamwork to be able to rescue high numbers of people in need.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, more than 12,000 Texas Guardsmen joined first responders from partner local, state and federal agencies, as well as, other military components, to rescue thousands of Texans in need.