Calif. Firefighters Return From Texas to Big Welcome
Sept. 08--IRVINE -- After a two-week deployment to greater Houston, where it rescued hundreds caught up in Tropical Storm Harvey, California Task Force 5 rolled back into town Thursday evening, with 100 family members and others greeting them with signs, balloons and hugs.
Many of the 45 firefighters who pulled into the headquarters of the Orange County Fire Authority work for the agency but others were from the Anaheim and Orange fire departments.
"Texas was sure lucky to have OCFA," read one sign.
"Welcome home, Dad," another said.
California Task Force 5's caravan included two semi-trailers and several light trucks that held its equipment. In Texas, the firefighters pitched tents, and set out cots, toilets and showers at a high school football stadium.
Using two aluminum flat-bottom boats and a pair of rubber inflatables, which the task force towed along, it plucked people from flooded homes, a freeway overpass and other places, getting them out of harm's way.
"I was a boat operator so I was involved with perhaps 600 rescues," OCFA firefighter Michael Salazar recalled. "I saw a lot of tears. Several people were surprised to see that we were from Orange County, California."
The Orange County firefighters aided Houston cops, who had been getting around town in a dump truck until it stalled out because of the rising water. Some residents had been clutching light poles.
At the OCFA headquarters on Thursday evening, the task force's members had medical and psychological screenings, which are standard protocol after such an assignment.
"They did great work, and positively affected the citizens of Houston," OCFA Capt. Alan Wilkes said. "Their spirits were good the entire trip. They were out there in tragedy, and we want to make sure they are back and OK."
Firefighter Kent Rundle recalled experiencing a wide range of rescues.
"It was so tragic," he said. "Many of those people lost everything -- many of them had no flood insurance. ...
"Sometimes, the most important thing we did was to comfort people: Tell them everything was going to be all right," Rundle said. "The toughest rescue was one where we had to split up a family -- taking the children to dry land, and then the parents.
"We rescued everything -- kittens, dogs, deer, and even an armadillo."