Brownsville Fire Dept. Volunteers Return from Harvey Recovery Efforts
BROWNSVILLE – Many first responders from the Rio Grande Valley were called to assist in the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey.
Some told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they learned valuable lessons along the way, which they hope will better prepare the Valley for a major storm.
Brownsville Fire Chief Deputy Ernie Estrada said it was an eye-opening and a "very humbling experience." It's the second time in his career that Estrada is called to help after a major hurricane.
He said the first time was after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Two weeks ago, he was called to the Houston area.
Five other Brownsville firefighters, all part of the South Texas Emergency Medical Task Force 11, went with him.
"It was raining, flood waters, we were deployed constantly," Estrada described, "We were on the move."
After eight days working round the clock, they're back home in the Valley.
Estrada said Valley leaders need to work on improving drainage and irrigation canals, and making sure people aren't dumping in them.
"I saw a lot of bayous that were cleared but other bayous that were full. And the only understanding that I would get from the Army Corps of Engineers was that there was a blockage for the water to run. Obviously (it's) because of the pollutants from construction materials to household items," Estrada said.
Another lesson he wants Valley residents to take away is that packing important documents is necessary and will make a difference when masses are displaced.
With so many people not having those, he said, it was harder for first responders to get people to the appropriate place for help.
"They bring their purse, they bring their toys for their children," Estrada said, "but they forget immunization cards, driver's license, Social Security and birth certificates."
More training for local first responders is also a must, he added.
"The safety aspect of it was very dangerous," he said. "We did have reports of certain first responders that responded via boat that did get electrocuted."
If a category 5 hurricane heads for the Valley, Estrada said there's little to do to prepare. He said evacuation will be necessary.
EMTF 11 has already been called back to continue helping with the Harvey aftermath.