Firefighters at Station 49 of the Houston Fire Department recount their experiences as first responders during Hurricane Harvey. Chief Bob Branch says that no amount of planning could have prepared them for the flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
He says that other recent floods, such as the Tax Day flood, were small events that affected a limited portion of the city, and that because Harvey affected such a large area, they could never have had enough resources. Brian Dea mentions that the need for emergency services due to regular medical emergencies, like heart attacks, did not dissipate during the flooding, and that HFD and EMS had to make their regular volume of calls on top of calls related to flooding. He also points out that a call does not go away after a set amount of time, so first responders still must go to that location even if there was a back log. During Harvey, Branch says there was a forty-eight hour back log of 911 calls. In response to the flooding, Branch remembers many federal agencies assisting with rescues and recovery. Michael DeLeon recalls how his team was able to resuscitate a man who had drowned in Brays Bayou. At one point, a man showed up to the fire station with a large, high-water vehicle and asked to help conduct rescues. This truck was able to get the firefighters close to a house fire. Branch describes how the firefighters had to wade through deep water while wearing their firefighting gear as they made rescues. No Houston firefighters were injured during Harvey, and Benjamin Burton fondly remembers the kindness and generosity of the community, which manifested largely in the form of food donations. Because there was such a back log on emergency calls, Branch began to make calls to check on those people to see if they still needed help. He says that some people called him back days later and thanked him for checking on their wellbeing. Burton, who decided to become a firefighter after his experience during Hurricane Katrina, mentions that the community rallied around first responders. After the storm, there were days of paperwork to complete, the size of HFD’s boat fleet increased, and high-water vehicles were purchased.
Interviewee: Chief Bob Branch, Alex Saucedo, Brian Dea, Michael DeLeon, Benjamin Burton, Brandon Hernandez
Interview Date: June 28, 2018
Interview Location: Houston Fire Department Station 49
Interviewer: Debbie Harwell, Rebecca Golden
DH: So I’d like you first to please state your full name. Tell us when and where you were born, a little bit about your life growing up, and how you got involved in a career with the fire department and EMS.
AS: Alex Saucedo, that’s my name. I have been working in the fire department for almost 15 years — 14 and three-quarters, how about that? 14 and three-quarters. Houston, Texas, that’s where I was born and raised. My uncle was a firefighter, and I have another uncle who’s a sheriff — copper, policeman. Out of college, I was taking a break — coming down here to Houston to take a break from all the stress of college — were telling me, “Maybe I should just join the fire department.” Told me the schedule, and I was thinking, “That sounds pretty nice. I think I will.” Next thing you know, I’m in the fire academy, acing everything — decided to join [0:01:00] paramedic school and aced that, too. I’m an ace, I tell you.
BD: He’s humble.
BBr: Should have been a pilot.
MD: Very humble.
AS: But that’s it. That’s about all I have unless you have another question. I can answer that for you.
DH: I heard you’re an excellent paramedic.
AS: I would say I aced it. Maybe I just fake it well.
BBr: I might have overexaggerated that a bit.
AS: But yes, ma’am.
DH: Thank you, Alex.
BD: So I guess I am next. I am Brian Dea. I’ve been with the fire department for about eight years. I am not a paramedic, but that’s okay. These other guys are.
MD: That’s okay?
BD: These other guys are. Basically, they just push the drugs, and I do pretty much whatever else.
BBr: Laptop work.
BD: I actually grew up in this area, so when there was a lot of the flooding and everything like that, there was a lot [0:02:00] of places and people that I immediately knew. So you kind of —
BBr: You saw them floating by.
BD: Or just stuck in their houses, but — so yeah, I — luckily, my parents’ house didn’t flood, but some of my friends’ did. I joined the fire department because, out of college, I realized how much I hated working in a cubicle. Like you know, you love your job or you hate your job. And I hated my job. So I said I wanted to do something which day-to-day is not the monotonous grind. So I told my parents, “I want to join the Army, join the fire department, or join the police department.” And my parents said, “I don’t want you to get shot at.” So fire department was the natural course. So —
BBr: They had a Los Angeles firefighter get shot and killed this week on a call.
MD: Yeah, I heard about that.
BD: Which doesn’t mean anything, because we do — we are exposed [0:03:00] to firearms. So there’s lots of continuing education courses that we take. So we’ll kind of probably talk about that later on in this fire. So anyway.
MD: My name is Michael DeLeon. I’m born in Toronto, Canada up in the north and stuff. And moving down is a whole other story. I started off — how I got in the fire department? I started off school teaching at a Catholic school here in Spring Branch. And I was doing a lot of coaching, and there was a dad that would always help me out. And I was always curious about his work schedule, and that’s how I got introduced to the fire department. He was a firefighter-paramedic as well. And then — so I looked into it. And then after 10 years of teaching, I decided to jump into the fire department and never looked back. I always loved it in terms of just, you know, being out with the community, helping people, and all that kind of stuff. So I’ve been in for about 11 to 12 years, give or take. And yeah, that’s [0:04:00] all I’ve got in.
DH: Uh-huh, nice.
BBr: Well, this is going to be fun. First off, I guess I should start with my name, Bob Branch, District 5 Chief of these — not over these guys, with these guys, because I think we all work together. But I will jump straight to the fact of how did I get in the fire service. Well, probably you and you will be the only one — and you definitely won’t know. But I grew up watching Emergency!. You guys remember that show? Yeah, I mean, not the reruns. I mean, every night — every Saturday night at 7:00 P.M. So I mean, straight out of high school, when — I was born in Austin. We immediately moved to Kingsville when I was very young — so grew up in Kingsville, went to A&I there and got straight into the fire service.
I worked in Corpus Christi Fire Department nine years before coming here. And I was in the second ever [0:05:00] class of paramedics in Corpus Christi when they started Advanced Life Support. So I’ve been in that — I’ve been doing it that long. So I was sitting there trying to figure out when I actually got certified. It’s probably going to be like in the mid-80’s — early to mid-80’s.
So I’ve been here 28 years. I did — my first nine years of my career was on some of the busier medic units in Houston. Then I don’t know if I deemed my sanity or I just — it was time to move on. Then after nine years, I would — I started driving a pumper and then moved on into the officer aspect of it. So that’s it in a nutshell — always wanted to be a firefighter. If my mom was still alive, you could ask her that even when I was a little youngin’ that that’s all I wanted to do. So no eminent light coming down from — anything else other than that. It was just — that’s all I wanted to do [0:06:00].
You’re eating jellybeans, dude?
BBu: I thought it was a good time to eat some jellybeans.
BD: Where did you find those, buddy?
BBr: Yeah, where did you find — under the couch?
MD: [Unclear, 0:06:07]. My hands are like [unclear, 0:06:09] jellybeans.
DH: So when we did some of our earlier interviews, there were multiple people that said they got in the fire department because of Emergency!.
BBr: It was — that was probably — of course — especially these guys — in fact, I do myself. You watch it. And you think how hokey it was and everything else, but when that show came into existence, that was truly the way — for Los Angeles County, the way they did business. And that was a very true, accurate depiction of the fire service with the exception of one thing. Not every single person survives. You know, there’s going to be some time – unfortunately, we’ve all been there — where you can do everything you can for the person, and they’re still going to die. But you know, they just seem to always miraculously make it on Emergency!, and it’s — and they always use D5W. Those were the two [0:07:00] things I remember most about it, but yeah, it was a very accurate show. I like it. I mean, those were two awesome guys that could do anything, you know. They’d be up there doing tower rescues one minute, trench rescues another minute, you know, going into a fire without bunker pants. But again, that’s what LA did in that day. They used manilla rope, which we don’t use anymore and stuff like that. But it was a good show. And it — and it definitely influenced a lot of people’s decision in careers.
DH: Are you going to –?
BBr: Yeah, you got to —
DH: Scoot on up. Come on down.
RG: Sign your release, please.
BBu: I thought, “Man, I need to be a part of this. This is awesome.”
MD: Yeah, because he was — he was there, yeah.
BBu: Yeah, but not like you guys.
MD: Nah, but you were still there.
BBu: Well, my name is Benjamin Burton. I — quite interesting, I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. And I came to Houston by way of Katrina. So that’s very interesting, considering, now, we’re talking about another [0:08:00] hurricane — or similar. But yeah, so just a little bit about myself. I’m from New Orleans. And we came to Houston at that time. It was very difficult, but the way I came into the fire department is very unique in that there’s a fire station out in Katy that — long story short, we stayed there. And I knew then that, you know, my calling is to be a fireman. So I joined and signed up, and everything just kind of lined up perfecting, you know. I became an EMT with no difficulty. I became a fireman with no difficulty and even got in Houston at that time, which — it was — it was difficult for a lot of people that I was around to get in. So I was blessed in that aspect. And [0:09:00] years later — what? I’m about nine years in. I’m driving this outstanding chief next to me.
BBr: You still got a job. It’s okay.
BBu: Hey, everyone can attest here at this table that Chief Branch is the best chief to work for.
BBr: That’s because I give them [unclear, 0:09:18].
BBu: And it’s because —
BD: [Unclear, 0:09:19] to work for Chief Branch.
MD: That’s true.
BBu: He’s brushing it off, but it’s because the way he introduced hisself. He was like — he worked with us, you know, so.
MD: Always there for us.
DH: So you were talking about Katrina, which is a perfect lead in to my next question. I’ll let you all answer however you would like. What other experiences have you had with some sort of a natural disaster that required evacuations, whether it’s a flood or a hurricane – it may not have even been in Houston [0:10:00] – that might have prepared you for Harvey?
BBr: Nothing could have prepared us for Harvey. Nuh-uh. I don’t — I don’t care. The best laid plans in any municipal emergency operation center couldn’t have prepared you for that, you know? I was over technical rescue for five years before I came to 5’s. And you know, we had plans and contingencies and — like I said, everything in place for a local flood event, you know, like you had — even the — what was it?
DH: Tax Day.
BBr: Tax Day parade — parade? Flooding or what’s the — so there was a couple.
DH: Memorial Day.
BBr: Memorial, yeah, a couple of those. And again, those were beyond local flood events. So those were still, to some extent, a global event, meaning it was all over Houston simultaneously. But you know, we talked so long and hard about how ill-prepared we were and the equipment we did and didn’t have. So like that — well, I don’t care who you were. There was nothing that was going to be [0:11:00] prepared and equipped for Harvey. That was a global event. I mean, it affected everybody in the city and county. We had city, county, state, and federal resources, and it still wasn’t enough.
Because it’s kind of funny that, over time, people have gotten so used to watching the media that one event that they think is forecast to be terrible and everybody needs to, you know, pack up and leave. And we don’t get anything out of it. And then the next time is like, “This is not going to be anything.” Again, a Tax Day flood or something like that, that just kind of caught us off guard overnight. And the next thing you know, we’re in the uh-oh mode. So you know, we were prepared for that. And we are prepared for, like I said, a local event.
You know, you see a rain event training in the southeast. We can deploy our units, our resources southeast, southwest, something like that, but there was not enough — there’s not [0:12:00] enough assets to handle something like Harvey. And it took days, almost weeks, to get enough assets. And by then, the water was starting to recede. People were making their way out by, you know, however possible.
But you know, the biggest thing that helped us, good and bad, was when — I believe it was the county — the county judge put out a, “We need help,” kind of announcement. And it was good, because, yes, we had tons of assets. But — and this we’ll get into, I’m sure, later on — is when I was over an area command, which is basically I was in charge of a fourth of the city days afterwards — the interesting resources that would show up. People were showing up with inflatable boats — almost with innertubes or all the way up to $100,000-plus trophy bass boats and stuff like that that they’re going [0:13:00] to put in the waters here, where you didn’t have a clue what was in them — every kind of debris known to man floating down the bayous and everything else. But I guess it did show that they were willing to do what they could to help out with the neighbors and everybody else that — with everything going on. But now, there’s no way you could have prepared for that.
Yeah, I didn’t — and when they were telling us — and sometimes — you know, again, we’ve all been there when the media’s going like, “Oh, this is going to be terrible. It’s going to be 10, 15 inches of rain,” and we get, you know, a little misting or something like that. Well, I don’t know what crystal ball they were looking on for this one, but they said 50-plus inches of rain. And they were dead on. I never — and I mean, I’m collectively older than all these guys probably put together. I’ve never seen that much rain. And I mean, that’s growing up in south Texas, where if you have to look back in the hurricane archives — where I actually went through Hurricane Beulah, Hurricane Carla, which — I mean, not Carla — Celia, which almost devastated [0:14:00] Corpus Christi back in the day. Geez, Hurricane Allen, which was like my first — I was — only been in the fire department in Corpus like two weeks out of the fire academy when that came blowing through. So you know, I’ve been through multiple hurricanes.
And in those days, there was not a lot of major evacuation. I guess — I guess it was Ike or earlier ones when mass exodus got to be a big thing. Of course, you’re going to want to evacuate low-lying areas like Galveston and all that down there — Seabrook and all that, sure. I get that. But you think you’re sitting pretty much high and dry here, except there’s no way you can duck the wind and everything else. But unlike Harvey, that was a rain event for us. That wasn’t a — thank God, because it would have had more debris floating down the bayou. Because it got blow over by the trees, but yeah.
Now that I’ve run that blab and gab gamut [0:15:00], it’s just — my point is is for an event like that, there’s no way you can prepare. You can be ready. You can — when I say you can be ready, you can say, “Okay, I think we’re as ready as we’re going to be.” You can have all your personnel in place. You can have all the equipment you have in place and everything else. And then it’s either going to be more than you anticipated or less than anticipated. You’re never going to — never going to be — who’s? Somebody’s retiring. That’s what that is. So —
DH: 19? Fifth Ward.
BBr: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. So you know, there’s never going to be that perfect event where you say, “Man, this is exactly how we planned. It’s exactly how it played out.” So you know, you can plan for the best and expect the worst. And that’s what’s going to happen 98% of the time, especially when you’re dealing with Mother Nature.
DH: For this station, what’s your area that you cover? In a Harvey event, I’m assuming that [0:16:00] all bets are off.
BBr: All bets are off, exactly right.
DH: But normally, what would your area be that you cover — just generally?
BBu: This station in particular? 49?
MD: Well, it depends what the firetruck or the ambulance — we’re all over the place.
AS: So we definitely would do anywhere from Westpark Tollway all the way up to —
AS: Maybe a few miles north of 290.
DH: Oh, wow.
AS: And anywhere from Highway 6 to 610. It’s a huge area for ALS — just because there’s — ALS is spotted around here.
BBr: When you ask that — if you ask an ALS unit, “What your territory,” it’s easier just to go get the Key Map out of the ambulance, put it down on the table, and say, “That’s our territory.”
AS: The entire thing.
MD: These pages.
BBr: Because you’re going to go — as the units are dispatched on calls — opens up the hole that much, and [unclear, 0:16:51]. And everybody’s having to go, so you’re going to have to travel further to cover that territory. So yeah —
BBu: And in a sense, the same with the District Chief’s vehicle [0:17:00]. They’re all over the place.
BBr: But again, in Harvey, all bets are off, yeah.
DH: Okay, so what sorts of things do you normally do in a rain event? And what sorts of things did you do the same or different perhaps for Harvey? So you can either speak specifically to Harvey or more generally for what you would do to prepare for something that you anticipate would be a flooding.
BBu: Well, I think, from my past experiences working during a hurricane, we’re taught to, you know, bring extra clothing in case you’re stuck here at the station — rained out or you can’t get back to your home or what have you. So bring extra clothing, and bring extra water and food.
MD: Food and water.
BBu: At least three days, right?
MD: Uh-huh, that’s what they say.
BBu: And so that’s what our guidelines state. And aside from that [0:18:00], it’s — most of the time, it’s just kind of shelter in place, if you will. I mean, you know, typically the call volume won’t get too crazy, because hopefully, everyone in the city is doing what they’re supposed to do by not really being out on the road and getting themselves in a compromised situation. But it still happens. But I can recall a couple times where they actually shut down all transportation units, because the wind was so strong or — I’m sorry. It’s kind of loud. Mainly because the wind would be so strong, they would kind of, you know, come over the speaker and tell us to — we’re out of service, I guess. But aside from that, it’s just shelter in place and just wait for something to happen.
DH: Okay, so let’s just — I’ll just open it up to all of you. Tell me a little bit about what happened [0:19:00] during Harvey — what some of your experiences were. I know you were talking about some of them a little while ago before we got started, so.
BD: So one of the big things that occurs whenever it rains is — whenever it rains, whether it’s an inch of rain or it’s a few feet of water, you always have your respiratory emergencies. So when they call 911, you have to come out there. So like a lot of units were having difficulty going through high waters, but at the end of the day, you still have to make those runs. People still need your help, so you still need to go out there and, you know, try to help them with their medical emergency as much as possible.
And you have other people that feel like the news does not pertain to them. When they say shelter in place — the news says, “Shelter in place,” and they said, “Oh, you know. I can make it,” right? So then you have a lot of people who get stranded. And around 610 [0:20:00] and 59, you have a lot of people’s cars that get submerged. Like they tell you to shelter in place for a reason, and a lot of people don’t feel like it applies to them. So then when you have to do high-water rescues, you basically are stabbing around with, you know, real long pike poles hoping that you don’t hit a real deep spot as you go through the water or walk.
But the problem with a lot of the storms like Hurricane Harvey is the runs — when they call 911, they don’t just disappear at midnight. So like even if they’re old calls, you still have to make them. They just might not be applicable anymore.
BBr: That is a good point on that, because during Harvey — I mean, like I said, running an area command. I was getting — we were — they were backed up 48 hours in the system.
BD: And you still make them.
BBr: And we were — they were — they would call us, and we would deploy not necessarily our assets, but by that time, we had — now, I’m going to probably [0:21:00] misquote this. But there’s — I think there’s 27 – I could be wrong on that – federal task force in the country. And there’s been only one other time besides Harvey that they were — all 27 were in the same catastrophic event at one time. And that was 911. So I mean, if we got any kind of bragging rights, at least we’re there. All 27 task force groups from across the country were here, and that’s from California to New York City, so — and like I said, 48 hours later, we’re — they would — they would call with a group of addresses, and I would pass those on to the transportation director there.
And we had — I think I had 54 boats from three different task force groups assigned to us. And if they weren’t making physical by this time, they’re not rescues but evacuations. People were just stranded. Hard heads, they didn’t want to leave their house, but now, they’ve got — the first floor is full, so they got to leave. But they were running these calls [0:22:00]. And of course, by now, they’re — you know, they’re not emergent calls anymore. People are gone. People have been evacuated and everything else.
But yeah, like you said, you’ve got to — if they call, we go, you know, by whatever means it takes to get there. You know, our vehicles are designed where our air intake on the heavy apparatus are about 18 inches or so off the ground. So they can’t — they’re not — they’re not submarines. So you can only go through so much water, and you have to stop. Then if we have to get out and walk, fine. If we have to — in this case, during Harvey, we only had one high-water vehicle, and that’s the one that’s at 5’s. And we never saw that thing for a week, because once they got in it, they would leave. And they were going from here to here to here to here.
But again, you had city assets. You had state assets. You had county assets who were doing the same thing. So you know, that’s the nature of the fire service — is we’re going to make it work no matter what, you know? We’re that hard-headed kid on the block, you know, that always says, “You can’t do it [0:23:00].” And well, we’re going to prove you wrong, because we’re going to do it however we can.
MD: And I think, too, when you’re trying to make your responses at these locations and you come across the high-water type of thing. And there’s not really — you can’t just disregard the call and say, “Well, we tried our best. We can’t do it,” because there’s not really anyone else that would go after. I mean, you’re it, you know. I mean, you’re the 911. And so, you know, like Chief was just saying, you’re going to make the run someway, somehow, you know, whether you reroute here or reroute there, because there’s going to be someone there that needs our help. And if we can’t do it, I don’t know who else will get there. So you know, there were a couple times when I was on the medic on the first day, we made dispatches out to McCarty — like 610 and McCarty like on the east side — like on the ship channel.
MD: There were about four or five units dispatched to that particular location that couldn’t make it – and I’m just tooting my little horn – because the high water on the freeways. But Oscar Pedroza [0:24:00] — Pedroza and I, we figured, “Well, we’ll contraflow on 610.” And we saw units coming back ahead of us telling us, “It’s high water. You can’t make it. You can’t make it.” And we made — we made location. You know, we end up going through water — you know, kind of risking the apparatus or the vehicle — the ambulance, but we made it. And of course, we brought him all the way back to Memorial City.
BBr: Nice guys.
MD: You know.
BBr: But, yeah, we’re going to — you know, the — our life safety model is we’re going to risk a lot to save a lot. But we’re going to risk very little save to little. And we’re going to risk nothing to save nothing. And you know, sometimes you just have to go with that. You’re dealing with these calls three days later. Or when I — like I said, over the area command for those three days, dispatch would call with certain — and you know, when you heard the same address three and four times — well, what they wanted was either somebody just to come out and check on them or give them words of encouragement. Then they’d say, “No, I don’t want to leave.” “Okay [0:25:00].” That only happens for a couple days, and then the order was that — we came down with it. If we make the address third time and they call us, two things are either going to happen. They’re either going to go with us or do not call back.
I mean, that sounds very callus, but you’re eating up valuable resource at that point in time just to go out there and say, “Hey, we saw you yesterday. We saw you the day before. Everything okay?” You know, because we always carried water with us. So we weren’t going to say, “No, we’re not going to give you any water or anything like that.” But I know a lot of these people, especially in the corridor that we were at — you know, along the bayou and stuff like that, there’s a lot of super-high-dollar homes, a lot of valuables, stuff like that. And you know, in the midst of a catastrophic event like Harvey, there are the bad guys that are still in business.
So when these people are evacuating, thinking, “Well, my property’s as safe as it’s going to be because it’s got six feet of water in it or whatever,” well, here come the bad guys in the boats at night. And they’re taking [0:26:00] everything they can out of these houses. So we had armed forces in the boats with us for not only if they encountered something but the protection of the firefighters and everything in the boats.
And so — and it was really — it was really interesting, because — you were out there with me one day, right? Ben was with me. And then I was — had another guy another day. I never seen so many law enforcement acronyms in my world. But literally, everybody in the world from — like I said — law — local, county, state, but I mean, federal, man. I had DEA. I had FBI. I had — I mean, CIA was probably there somewhere, but they wouldn’t tell me who they were. But it was amazing how many. And they were just friendly as can be and everything else. And mainly during the day, they just carried a side arm.
But you could tell at 1800 hours, it was shift change for them, because they would disappear to their vehicles. And then they would come back looking like Rambo, because they had their full-body armor on [0:27:00]. They had automatic weapons. You know, they had their night — illumination set-ups and everything else. And if they weren’t — if they weren’t getting in the boats with us, they were going four-deep in a patrol car, you know. And it was like they were going looking for trouble, so to say. And they were — but they took our protection and the protection of the citizens very safe — very seriously.
But there was a few shots fired — not necessarily here. I know in the height of the storm up more north that there was a couple times people were shooting at — and not necessarily HFD but just anybody in general. So you know, you just — even in the worst of times, there’s always going to be somebody that just wants to do something totally stupid that disrupts everything going on that you’re trying to do to help the people.
DH: Now, you all did not carry weapons, right?
BBr: No, we do not.
MD: No, we do not.
BBr: The only people in the fire department that carry weapons are arson investigators. And they were out, too. I mean, again [0:28:00], it was a — bring a gun or bring a boat, but come to Houston, you know, kind of thing. Some brought both.
DH: So let’s talk about some of the rescues that you did. I know you were talking a little while ago about the — doing the CPR with the person in a canoe.
MD: Yeah, that was a — from what I can recall, it was another civilian that was doing his own water rescues on a canoe along the bayou around Wilcrest. And I think — I believe the story is that he had fallen in and had drown. And so someone — actually, I believe it was an off-duty fireman, because I remember the guy. He pulled him up in the boat. They started doing CPR. They took him over to the bridge there at the bayou and Wilcrest. And Section 57 — Engine 57 was there. And we were — we were dispatched there as well.
And we were just doing the whole cardiac arrest resuscitation type of thing in terms [0:29:00] of doing CPR, dropping IV lines and medications, and whatnot. The story with that was — the family was real religious. And I remember Captain Steckler — the family was talking to Captain Steckler while we were doing our whole resuscitation. And the family was asking if we could pause a moment just for a quick prayer as we were loading up into the ambulance. And so Captain Steckler and the family member’s doing that while we were still, of course, going on and on.
And the funny thing with that is that we did get pulses back within a couple rounds from that. And then, of course, we transported to the hospital. But that was — that was a neat thing. You know, and it was just pouring rain, of course. We were in our rain gear, and you’re trying to focus — doing all these different things. But yeah, that was — that was — that was one neat thing.
DH: Other stories?
MD: On the EMS side?
BD: Have fun, Chief.
MD: A lot of just — again, then the other one where we had to drive all the way up to McCarty [0:30:00]. That was something different — going contraflow — and you know, just trying to get to anyone that needed the help.
DH: How about on the fire side?
BD: Oh, I spent a day, day and a half on the back of a dump truck picking up people out of their houses and stranded people.
BBu: It’s cool.
BBr: Prior to — prior to getting all the high-water vehicles we have now, that was the —
BD: That was our high-water —
BBr: That’s a — that’s an off-camera story I’d be happy to share with you. But that was their bright idea — was to use dump trucks. And you know, okay, yeah, the resources are readily available, but they’re so many down sides to that. But yeah, you know, guys were going out — literally going on in dump trucks. The one high-water vehicle, again, we had at that time, we just got it. And there was a guy — a private citizen that owned his own five-ton, GI surplus vehicle.
BD: Which flooded out.
BBr: Well, these — well, yeah. I can’t believe you guys haven’t told that story [0:31:00]. I was looking to see if there was any pictures up.
BD: Oh, and that’s why we had to walk for a mile.
BBr: Yeah, well, this guy — this guy shows — again, to see what would show up at the command center every day and say, “I’m here to help. What can I do, you know?” And this guy had his own personal five-ton. He was kind of like — once you got over, “Well, that’s kind of cool,” then we put the guys from 49’s on it — these guys on it. And they were going into a high-water evacuation that way. But I don’t know. Was it like early afternoon — what time it was? But they were out, and a house fire was reported. Well, they got within — and you’re going to have to tell this story better than — within a block or so? And this guy had an air intake leak, so obviously, he was starting — if he got too high in the water, he was starting to suck water up. And so he had to stop, and they baled off and walked down there in [0:32:00] basically chest-deep water with their full firefighting gear on. And this house was fully engulfed. I want to say it’s that one right there.
MD: That’s the one, uh-huh.
BBr: And —
MD: It was deep in the subdivision, too.
BBr: And you know, fire apparatus are getting as close as they can. They can’t even get close enough, so they’re, you know, what we call skull dragging. But they’re just basically pulling the hose and hand-carrying it down. One guy — I mean, you know, if you could just know what all is in this water. You know, everybody just thinks, “Oh, man, it’s just dirty water. Maybe ants like that.” But you don’t take into consideration everything that’s been floating out of their garages, sewer systems, and everything else.
But this guy — you know, got to do what you’ve got to do. Basically, you know, knows — muscle memory knowing our job, he took the cap off the two-and-a-half above water. Then he had to go underwater and attach the hose and everything else. So they were doing that. So there was another — it was — I guess it was a jet drive boat that was here from Austin Fire Department. And they literally just backed it up [0:33:00] in the front yard, because, obviously, the water was that deep and elevated it where they were using that as a nozzle.
BD: To stream it in.
BBr: Yeah, there you go.
BBu: It was — it was pretty cool.
BBr: It made —
BBr: And they actually —
BBu: Made Huffington Post?
BBr: They made it to the — I think it was —
MD: Washington Post.
BBu: Washington Post.
BBr: A reporter from the DC Post — Washington DC Post riding with them — and they got all that. It was in the Washington Post before it was in the Houston Chronicle, so. But it’s just stories like that. That’s the stuff that happened during Harvey. And there’s no way on the face of this earth you could prepare for — you could even plan for that. You know, that’s called ingenuity, you know, on the fly, on the cuff, whatever, you know. But that’s just the nature of firefighters’ creativity.
DH: How do you move around with all that gear in all that water?
BBr: Very slowly.
DH: Doesn’t it like go down your boots and everything?
BD: Go really slowly, because you’re waterlogged. You just hope you don’t step [0:34:00] into a hole and go splat.
BBr: It’s — but again, it’s — you know, it’s one of those things. Again, you were saying, “How do you prepare?” Well, there’s no guideline for a flood event like this and wearing your full protective gear. Our guideline says, “You’re responding to and operating on the fireground, you will your wear your full protective gear.” Well, they were responding, and they were operating on the fireground. But they were also operating in, you know, three foot of water. So it’s — you know, while, yeah, it’s kind of protecting them from the fire, because obviously, they weren’t going to get close enough. They weren’t going to go interior or anything like that.
But the downside is that it does exactly what you said. It slows them down. All that stuff is in — now contaminated their gear. So if — once they get out of that, we don’t have any extra gear to change out into. So now, they’re stuck having to put this stuff on again and again. So if they do make a [0:35:00] working fire where they go interior, now, they’re taking a chance on steam burns and any other type of injuries that can occur. But again, firefighters are not being going to say, “You can’t do that.” I mean, they’re the ones you got to hold by the belt and say, “Just stop.”
And they don’t like it, but you know, that’s just the way it is. They’re going to do what they have to to get the job done. And that’s just what they did there. And it was — it was pretty funny. There were numerous pictures. If you sit there and look at them closely and realize what’s going on, it’s pretty — it’s pretty neat. But that was not — not just happened here. I can only tell you what was happening out here, but it was going on everywhere. Kingwood, it was a nightmare up in Kingwood, too, with all the flooding going up there.
DH: That’s right.
BBr: Limited resources. We were fortunate that at least we could get resources. And shoot, the first day I was there I thought I had every task force known to man. And next thing I know, the guy I was dealing with was a citizen task force leader from Virginia Beach. And he hands me the phone. I go, “Who am I talking to?” And he goes, “It’s [0:36:00] the task force leader from Oklahoma City.” So they were sending a Type 1, and they were just leaving TEEX. They were just leaving College Station headed here, so that was a — I can’t remember how many — 35, 40 vehicles. And I mean, this is 18-wheelers with their full cache and stuff like that. They had 24 boats, so they’re stacked and everything else. So this was a full — and again, to know what a Type 1 is, this is — this is a 90-person team that’s designed for everything from hazardous materials, medical, collapsed, water, everything — search dogs, communications, everything. This is — and so we had that rolling in. So I had a full task force team. I had Virginia Beach. Who else did you say?
BBu: I think I saw Ohio.
BBr: Ohio. So I — like I said, I had 50 — I think 54 boats at the height of our operation. And that was from task force groups [0:37:00] — not even the City of Houston, because they kept sending me over there — or us over there. And they go, “Okay, here’s who you have to start the day with.” I’d say, “Just send them home. Let them protect their neighborhood. Let them do what they can for their, you know, immediate needs.” Because I guess dispatch didn’t realize the resources I had. And they were there for three days, so. You know, it was just a — it was just a non-plannable event. I can’t emphasize that enough.
BD: I’d say one of the things that HFD and a lot of the other responding individuals were lucky about is every single time — and I’m pretty sure you guys heard about it on the news. Every time you go into somebody’s backyard or alongside their house, you carry that heavy risk of getting electrocuted. And at least when our apparatus dropped us off and we were walking through like people’s like backyards and fences and — after the fact, I was like [0:38:00], “Oh, yeah, somebody got stung a few times.”
MD: The bees.
BD: But I just talk — I just talk about how we’re lucky nobody got electrocuted, because —
AS: Or fell in a pool.
BD: Yeah, or fell in a pool.
MD: Seriously hurt — that’s true, too — could have fallen — because we were going through — all we saw when we got out of that boat — out of the — out of the truck, and we started walking into the subdivision, you just see a column of smoke in the distance. We were figuring, “Okay, well, naturally, let’s just try to follow the streets and figure out which way to go.”
And then Captain Lilley — as a group again, we all just figured, “You know, let’s just beeline it to get there faster and stay out of the ditches.” And we were going through people’s yards, and that’s true in terms of not knowing what’s in people’s yards. And that’s where the beehive thing came through when we broke through one fence. But I guess, yeah, you just don’t think of terms — right, you’re going — suddenly stepping into a pool or something.
BBr: What he was talking about earlier — about a pike pole was anytime you’re walking through water, you have to have something. And it makes sense. It’s kind of like you’re a blind person and you’re using that stick [0:39:00]. Because you’re looking — main thing is we’re looking for — obviously, our — find out where the street stops and you step up on a curb. But more importantly, you’re looking for — and you would think as heavy as these things are — manhole covers.
BD: Loose manholes, oh, yeah.
BBr: Those things blow off, and they float around like Styrofoam. And in a situation like that, that’s bad. So you’ve got to — you know, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t step off in a hole or something like — or like he said, a swimming pool — anything like that, so. You know, just think what we go through on a daily basis on a perfectly clear day. And then —
BD: Like a house fire?
BBr: Yeah, yeah, anything. And then, you know, throw in high water. And then, like I said, all the stuff floating around — debris, stuff out of people’s garages —
BBu: That’s a major concern.
BD: I got my hepatitis shot.
BBr: That’s one things people’s — nobody’s mentioned is ants. You know, ants are atrocious.
BD: Oh, those are nasty.
BBr: Because they’ll get up on something — a whole colony or whatever else, and you’ll see something floating. And it’s a whole, big, old swarm of [0:40:00] ants or something like that. So — and so yeah, gear does protect you a little bit in that respect, too. Rescue, we issue a dry —
MD: The yellow pants?
BBr: Well, yeah, yeah. Dry suits, but everybody kind of goes, “Well, the water’s not cold enough.” It has nothing to do with thermal more than it does body substance isolation, because the suits that they wear have the PPE in them to protect them from bloodborne pathogens and things of that nature. Because it’s — again, not that we’re going to dive off into a blood bank, but it’s just — you don’t know what is floating in that water. And we don’t — and the thing that kills me is I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it — where a family will just — they’ll just venture the kids and everybody out in the middle of the street in waist-deep water to take a picture or something like that.
You know, we all were kids. We all went running out and playing in the street or in the gutters or something when it rains like that. You know, okay, if it’s floating along the gutter, that’s one thing. But this stuff [0:41:00] was three-feet, four-feet deep, coming from the bayou and — you know, it’s full of ethyl-methyl, bad stuff. You don’t know what’s in it. I couldn’t begin to put the chemical equation together what all was in there. That’s not including —
BD: Fecal matter.
MD: And there’s a current, too. Some places we were in there was a current.
BBr: And there’s moving water.
BBr: You slip, and it takes you. It doesn’t have to be but a couple miles an hour. I mean, everybody’s done a little time at Thunder River or one of those lazy river kind of things. And that’s only moving at like 2 or 3 miles an hour. And you see how it carries you with no problem. Now, think about if you’ve got your firefighting gear on or something like that — hit in the old coconut with, you know, a limb or something. I’ve seen refrigerators, washers, dryers, trash cans, coolers — you know, everything known to man going down the bayou in a situation like that, so. If you ever need an appliance, go down towards the ship channel, and it will be there. I’ll let some of these guys talk for a little [0:42:00] bit.
MD: Yeah, that was a good movie, too.
DH: I live in Kingwood, and I walk at a park around Lake Houston. And for several weeks, we had a dead freezer on the path where we walk — you know, a chest freezer.
MD: Oh, yeah, it’s crazy where you’ll find things.
DH: Washed up.
MD: Where the water subsides, you know, you’ll find dumpsters in the middle of a forest somewhere.
AS: Yeah, these guys got lucky. They could have fallen into a pool back there in the backyard. They could have fallen into a manhole. Like Chief was saying, they could have been caught by a current — could have slipped. And in that heavy gear, imagine getting back up, knowing that it’s saturated in all of that and knowing how heavy it is. They got lucky — fortunate.
BBu: Good point.
AS: Obstinate little kids.
MD: I mean, we were deciding that — you know, I guess — obviously, when the alarm tones go off, you’re just in this mode of, “We got to go do a job,” you know, regardless of what the hazards may or — you know, may be or whatnot. And we were just talking about going through the fences and the yards — that I was just saying that — you know, you don’t think [0:43:00], “Oh, what if we step in a hole,” or whatnot. And you made a point, too, that you know, AC units, you know, with live electricity possibly going, you know. It’s just — again, I guess the fire department in general — you know, we’re all fun and games and have jokes and do whatnot here at the station — kind of like the whole fraternity type of thing. But once the alarm goes off, it’s like a whole other mind frame that we have — you know, that suddenly it’s like, “Okay.” The different hat comes on. There’s a life that we need to go to type of thing.
BD: During that fire, one thing that we were kind of laughing at the Army Reserve about was the gentleman or homeowner had a bunch of guns. Therefore, he had a bunch of ammo. So in the fire, it was like going off left and right. And there was — the Army guys started ducking for cover, but any of us who did that firearms CE — basically, it teaches you that unless the bullet is in [0:44:00] the gun and in the barrel, you don’t really have to worry about anything. Because otherwise, it’s just a real loud firecracker. So throughout the fire, there’s just ammo popping left and right.
DH: I would have thought it could have — it would be flying. That would have been my fear.
BBu: It still would be mine even after that — ever after that CE. I mean, I’m still like, “Yeah, dude, I’m not taking a chance.” I mean —
MD: That was that fire.
BD: That was.
MD: The Spring Branch fire had the one with all the barrels and all that blowing up in the —
AS: I was talking to them about that. Tell them about the Spring Branch fire. That Spring Branch fire I was telling her was a huge warehouse fire. And you guys — believe it or not, you guys had it contained within an hour. A huge fire like that, and I’ve noticed other —
BBu: On our side.
AS: Yeah, yeah. And I mean —
MD: On the residential side.
AS: And I mean, you guys had it where you guys had men on the ground shooting foam or whatnot to calm it down and figure out what the heck is popping. [0:45:00] That was impressive, because you see — you see a fire that big, and it takes half the day if not two days to sit on. You know what I mean? You guys had it tackled pretty well. I called in sick that day. It would have been me on the pumper. And you know what Engine 49 did? Carlos was driving. So I was like, “Carlos, man, you should have been getting a hydrant or something.”
BBu: Are you guys aware of that fire? The warehouse fire?
DH: No, I wasn’t aware of it.
BBu: It was a —
BD: That was bad.
BBu: It was right around the corner from Station 5 just off of Hollister and —
MD: Long Point.
BBu: Long Point.
MD: I mean, give or take.
BBu: And it was on a street called Laverne. And it was — it was an all-day event. It’s the biggest fire we’ve had in this area.
MD: That’s for sure.
BBu: But it was — it was a contaminant. It was — so because of the zoning laws in Houston, you know, you can have a car shop right next to someone’s house. And that’s exactly what it was.
BBu: And it was — this guy has this car set up. And just behind his [0:46:00] house was a warehouse that had barrels of pesticides and all kind of —
MD: Undocumented drums and stuff.
BBu: Yeah, unknown, undocumented. And that all went up, because the fire — I think it started at the — someone’s residence, but —
MD: It was in that little [unclear, 0:46:18].
BBu: It all just went up. Barrels were flying everywhere. It was — it was something else. It was something else.
DH: So you all are not very far from the Beltway, and that one section near the freeway stayed flooded for a really long time.
BD: That is what it was right there.
DH: Did that —
MD: Oh, the Beltway.
BD: That’s the Beltway.
DH: That? Okay. So did that impact you all?
MD: Oh, yeah, for responses, for sure.
DH: Were you pulling people out of that area? Like I know there are neighborhoods there on both sides — at least on that side. Was that flooded? Or was it mostly the underpass?
BD: It was completely flooded, because [0:47:00] actually —
MD: All those neighborhoods.
BD: Because actually, not far from where that picture was taken, that was — you know, that big piece of sidewalk like caved out. My friend’s house was probably actually only 50 feet away from that. So they ended up having to completely decimate and tear down their house, because they have like super-aggressive mold. So it’s like not salvageable at all.
BBu: Wow, that’s crazy.
DH: Did you all have water here?
AS: Well, we had an overabundance of food. Oh, my goodness.
DH: They were taking care of you.
AS: We lacked nothing.
BD: The neighborhood support, as far as food goes, was —
MD: Didn’t Gessner — didn’t Gessner flood?
DH: It should be that way.
BD: People dropped off like laundry detergent and —
MD: Oh, yeah, toiletry stuff, food. And all these countertops were full.
BBu: It was maxed out.
MD: And then in the bay was all full of supplies.
BD: I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife I didn’t eat her food [0:48:00].
BBu: That’s amazing though.
DH: We better edit that.
BBu: I would say that’s typically every station.
BBu: You know, I can’t vouch for every corner of Houston fire stations, but most stations are going to have some — somebody just — and it’s just non-stop, you know, which is a blessing. I mean, we really appreciate that. We really do.
MD: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
RG: Could you maybe talk about what it was like here at the station for you during those critical days?
MD: During that time, we had — that’s when we had the two shifts on duty at the same time.
MD: So regularly, this station specifically has six people.
BD: Oh, that was packed.
MD: Four on the fire truck and two on the ambulance. And then you, of course, make your runs. Because of Harvey, there was the big recall of manpower. And so the strategy was to have two shifts on duty at a time. So we pretty much doubled from six to 12 [0:49:00]. One thing is — in terms of just the station management itself, you know, you got two captains of equal rank trying to figure out how to manage everybody. You only had a certain amount of beds that can only fit six people. Now, you got 12 people. So we had guys sleeping on couches. And I don’t know — I guess the city provided cots. Or someone provided cots.
BD: We had sleeping rotations.
BBu: I don’t know what stations that did get cots.
BD: We got cots here. Someone provided cots.
BBu: That’s probably because you guys have academy right here.
MD: Well, I don’t know. But yeah, there were — there were cots, and — and it was just pretty much just — you know, just kind of just doing what you got to do. And we just kind of took turns on the apparatuses and things like that. You know, and that’s when they said, “Okay, well, let’s take half of you all to go to Memorial City with Ben and the Chief. And they’ll utilize us as part of the water rescues. And the other half will stay here and –“
MD: And do you regular responses from here. And so that’s how — [0:50:00], in terms of here, what happened.
BBu: So it’s like Chief said. That’s something that we’ve never done before. And hopefully, we’ll never do it again, but we had to do it then. And you know, we adjusted and made it work as best we could. And it did. It did. It can get — I guess — I mean, you know, so I was — I was with Chief at area command, so I was never at the station with all the other crews. But I can just imagine how — you know, you either —
MD: It’s like sardines.
BBu: If it’s — if it’s that shift that, you know, you kind of like or you’re cool with them, then it’s — in a way, you’re having fun still even though you’re responding and doing all of that. You still having fun, because we make the best out of — out of anything, you know. Or it could have been maybe one of the worst times ever. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t stand the C shift,” or, “I can’t stand the D shift,” you know. “Now, I got to work with the guy, so.”
MD: Yeah. Kind of like having just six kids, and now, you’ve got 12 [0:51:00] kids, you know. “That’s my spot,” or, “That’s my chair,” and that type of thing.
BBu: “I sleep here every day, okay. This is my bed.”
MD: Oh, yeah, and then the TV. “I’m watching this show.” “No, I’m want to watch this channel.”
BBu: So it can get — it can get a little petty, I would assume, you know, if you were at a station like that. But District 5 for the most part, I mean, we can talk to anyone. Everyone’s — nothing [unclear, 0:51:25] about District 5. It’s because of that guy that we work for — that works with us actually.
MD: Chief? Oh, yeah.
MD: Yeah, very good.
DH: The area that was evacuated or evacuations were requested later when the reservoirs were overflowing, is that in your area?
BD: That was all down in Memorial.
DH: And so I know it’s in the Memorial area. Do you know anything about how that transpired? Did they send HFD folks over there [0:52:00] to warn them? HPD?
MD: Oh, how the evacuations started?
BBu: How it started? Or doing and afterwards? I can only speak on afterwards.
DH: Well, how people got notified and then how it played out.
BBu: I’m really — I can only speak off my experience. I’m kind of uncertain of how they initially got, you know, contacted. But when we were at area command, Chief and I, and we were sending units out to — okay, we would get an address. And I was writing down the address trying to keep up as much I can, knowing that we’re behind, but we got to send someone to check this location out and clear it. If they’re there, and some were still there, you know, whether they’re deceased or not, some were still there. And some needed to be rescued.
I tell you, a cool thing was if there was a number, I was — I just started calling the numbers. I was like, “Maybe it’s going out on [0:53:00] a limb, but maybe they’ll answer.” So I would call the number, and then some would answer. And I would be like, “Cool. Hey, this is Houston Fire Department. Are you guys okay?” And then I — we were able to get a lot accomplished that way, because they were able to tell us, “Yeah, yeah, you know, we got out five hours ago.” But in our system, it’s still showing, “Hey, we need to check this address and make sure.”
So it was good to get citizens — and some even called back, because I was like, “Let me just leave a message. I don’t know. Who knows?” So I would call, and I’d leave a message, “Please call back if you’re safe.” And I got — probably shouldn’t have left my personal number, but I got — I got some citizens calling back like days later when I’m off, you know, just, “Hey, I’m just returning your call. I know it’s days later, but I’m okay, you know. Thank you for calling.” And I was like, “Well, thank you for replying.” You know, so this event, as catastrophic as it was, the city [0:54:00] did really well, you know. I think, as far as a community, it just really — you know, coming together — coming together and trying to do right by the next person. Black, white, Hispanic, you know, none of that mattered. It was like, “Dude, you’re in trouble. Let’s try to help you. We can figure out the rest of the stuff, you know, after that when you’re on dry land.”
MD: That whole Houston Strong thing, that really — whoever came up with that really nailed it on target. Because even when we’re at command over at the mall, all the food court restaurants were coming out, providing food for all the volunteers, you know. And then there were just makeshift donation drop-offs. I mean, and it’s just amazing like how many different families from different parts of the world in a sense were just, you know, dropping off cases of water to pillowcases to deodorant. There was families asking, “Hey, can we get y’all socks? You know, underwear?” I mean, just anything and everything.
BBu: Yeah, and it was very [0:55:00] reminiscent — I mean, from a personal level, this is — this was — this is pretty cool that —
BBr: Reminded him of the Superdome.
MD: Yeah, uh-huh.
BBu: It — I — you know, I experienced the receiving end and then also on the giving end, you know, like I said, coming from Katrina. But I was at a fire station — housed at a fire station in Katy around that time. So I kind of got to see, which really attracted me to being a fireman — how like — man, this is — this is a blessing that these guys are doing. This is awesome. It’s more than just running a building. Like this is — this is hands-on, you know. And now, being able to be the one hands-on, you know, giving back or helping in some way and really feeling for that citizen — that, “Hey, I’ve literally been there. 10 years ago, dude, I’ve been there,” so.
BBr: Yeah, definitely never seen so many Shipley’s donuts, because [0:56:00] what Mike was talking about is we were separate from where, basically, the collection point was when the vehicles would bring them in. Dump trucks, high-water vehicles, what have you, would bring them into a staging area. And we got a couple METRO busses over there to get them out of the elements. And it wasn’t raining. I was — I never seen so many happy people, you know, when the sun finally came out, so. But they were over there, and people just kept coming up to us. And like he said, it was just amazing the amount of water, donuts — and we kept telling them, “You need to go over there. That’s where the victims and all that are.” And they kept — they were emphatic it was not for the victims — that it was for us. So it was very humbling, you know, I mean.
BBu: They had their own separate —
BBr: You know, I mean, everything from kiddos to —
BBr: – the elderly and stuff like that, everybody wanted to help. They couldn’t bring a boat. They couldn’t bring a gun. Then they brought something for us, but they did. And I mean [0:57:00], the second day we were there, I’m trying to think of who all — Cheesecake Factory was there. Demeris Bar-B-Q was there. And I mean, it wasn’t just — and I mean, they stayed for hours and prepared all this food for us and everything else. And again, here we are. Essentially, we could go home, because we could at least go back to the firehouse. And the law enforcement people went back to wherever they were at — hotels, armories. You know, they were taken care of. They — and it felt kind of bad or embarrassed, because here everybody was giving us this. And we still had, if you will, the shirt on our back. And these poor people had nothing.
But you know, the Houston Strong thing, it took off like wildfire. But you know, that actually came from the Boston bombing. Everybody knows that. But I mean, but it was so cool how it did. And in fact, for the longest time, I had it on my bunker coat. But you know, you just [0:58:00] want everybody to remember and for us to make sure that everybody appreciates the fact that what they did for us. Everybody thinks that we did all this and everywhere else, but you know, at the end of the day, that’s our job, you know. We’re going to do what we have to do with what we have to do it with. I can’t believe I just said that.
But anyway, it was — it was — it was overwhelming for not only the people in the streets but for us. You know, and all the complaining that — you know, post-storm about inadequate training, inadequate resources, and everything else, you know, that’s the politicians, you know, pounding their fists. But if you talk to the street firefighter and everything else, they’re going to tell you, “Yeah, we could always use more, but we used what we had. And we got the job done.” And that’s — we lost no firefighters. I mean, I’m sure there was a few minor scrapes and bruises but nothing major — no medical issues come out of it as far as any type of — you know, any type of hepatitis or [0:59:00], you know, anything of that nature, so you know.
MD: That’s amazing.
DH: That is pretty amazing.
MD: Firefighters, we were cannonballing into it, you know.
BBr: I mean, we did — now, I take — not Houston firefighters, but talking about that Oklahoma Task Force group that came in, they did have one guy hurt for sure — maybe two, that developed — I’m not even going to try to attempt to pronounce it. But the flesh-eating — because again — and these guys were wearing the protection like everybody else was as far as the dry suits, the foot gear, the helmets, everything they can. But I mean, he might have had a pre-existing, you know, condition on his foot or something like that — or whatever. And but — yeah, there was a few of those, but it was few and far between, so.
And it’s just amazing with all the boats, all the flotilla, all the true ya-yas that [1:00:00] were out there that nobody drowned. I mean, there were so many people. The first day I was out there, I was — I say overwhelmed, because that was the busiest day for us. But I had, I mean, literally people coming in with anything and everything that floated. And we kept putting them off and putting them off, because honestly, we didn’t have an assignment for them. But the other thing is I kept looking around for the — not the Texas Rangers but the park — the Texas — not the Texas Rangers — the Parks and Wildlife folks. But they didn’t show up until the next day, and I — and I got on them.
I said, “Man, if you all had been here yesterday.” All they would have had to have done is walk the parking lot and found all these boats that have TX stickers like that. So you kind of — “Yes, we appreciate you being here, but we want to try to be safe.” Because you know, let’s start off with, “You’re not even — your boat’s not even licensed or certified or anything like that. Let’s start with the simple stuff.” PFD’s, you know. You know, so — you know, the next [1:01:00] time this happens — and hopefully, it won’t happen for another — what was it? Was that a 500-year flood? Whatever it was.
BBr: Relative, except for maybe D-E-A, man, he’s probably going to live forever.
MD: D-E-A, still alive.
BBr: I’ll never pronounce his name. D-E-A, that’s his name.
DH: That’s how you spell it, sure.
MD: Spell it, yeah.
BBr: Yeah. But anyway, I lost my train of thought now. They’ll just never — huh?
UNKNOWN: [Unclear, 1:01:33].
BBr: Just be — you know, just do what we got to do with what we have. And the people were that gracious. I mean, you saw the Astros do stuff for, you know, all the first responders. I mean, everybody — you had people come from every which way, so. But we’re going to do our job. And that’s all there is to it.
MD: I want to pull in Hernandez.
BBr: Oh, yeah.
MD: Brandon Hernandez, he was [1:02:00] —
BBr: He was one of the ones on the boat — well, in the back of the boat.
DH: Come in.
BBu: Oh, I’m sorry. I filled out that one.
DH: That’s okay.
MD: He was — he was with us.
DH: No, no, I needed you to.
BH: I’m just going to eat these jellybeans.
DH: They may be in the — they may be in here.
MD: He was with us on the dump trucks and, of course, making that fire.
DH: Oh, good.
MD: So he’s got a lot of experiences, too, that he’d like to talk about.
BBr: Let me look it up real quick.
BBu: Porter’s calling me. Or he did call me, so I’m wondering if he’s —
BBr: Porter? He’s not even on our shift anymore.
BBu: [Unclear, 1:02:39].
BBr: If he — if he knows about it, just tell him —
BBu: I’ll go find out.
BBr: Tell him not to worry about pictures of their vehicle but the other vehicle — the damage, license plate, you know, typical stuff — what kind of the situation was. Was an intersection, stop sign? Just the other vehicle.
BBu: Yeah. Tell him go back?
BBu: Alright [1:03:00].
UNKNOWN: Oh, the entire time?
MD: Uh-huh. It’s amazing how we’ve got the sign language down.
UNKNOWN: Or this right here.
MD: Because it’s like we’re whispering.
BBr: I know one thing is — and there was a ton of DPS troopers out there. I didn’t know they had their own state, water, strike team also. But they came toodling in and stuff like that. These are not the same DPS troopers that pull you over and, you know, will give you absolutely no credit or any brake or anything. You know, those are the, you know, letter of the law. And those guys were joking around having a good time. But I mean, when it came time to go work — like I said, after 1800 when they changed into their war gear, it was a different, different animal. Because they were looking for the bad guys. Okay, tell them about that five-ton, and you getting off of that, and wading through all that water [1:04:00].
BH: Did DeLeon not already delve into that?
DH: Tell us about yourself first.
MD: Yeah, yourself.
BBr: Oh, yeah, tell them about yourself.
MD: Your name, where you’re from.
BH: Brandon Hernandez.
UNKNOWN: How long does it take to do your hair?
BH: That’s no time.
DH: Where you’re from and how you got involved in the fire department.
BH: Well, from Houston, born and raised. I actually grew up a good majority of my life right here in this area in Spring Branch. I don’t — I still don’t live too far from here now. And I was — you know, I did well in high school, made good grades, came out, and started college. And about, I don’t know, two years into it, I just realized I wasn’t enjoying it. I started thinking about what else I could do. I just realized that this was something to do. I wanted to serve. I wanted to be able to do something that mattered and just realized that whatever the outlook was at that time in college — you know, sitting behind a desk or whatever [1:05:00] it maybe just wasn’t for me. It seemed exciting, and it seemed like something worthwhile. So that’s how I ended up here. And then as far as the —
DH: And that’s how you ended up on the dump truck.
BH: Oh, yeah. On the dump truck, yeah, you know, after a hurricane. So I’m not sure how much he, you know, got in depth on how we ended up there or why. But you know, we’d come in that morning for work. And it just started to where we were doing two shifts at a time to — you know, for coverage. But we had come in that morning, and it was — I guess it was our day. We were supposed to actually be able to rest here at the station. But there were just so many people here, and the apparatus were manned. And we could tell there was still so much going on. A few of us got together, and we just talked and said we really don’t just want to be sitting at the station resting or whatever when [1:06:00] we knew we could go to the command post right over here around the corner and do something. We knew there was plenty to be done, so we called up Chief and asked him if we could come join him at the command post — if there as anything we could do from there. And he said, “Yeah.” He said, “We can’t take any apparatus out of service,” but he said, “If y’all want to grab a personal vehicle and drive over,” and that’s what we did.
MD: Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Yeah, we went in his personal truck.
BH: Yeah, we loaded up in a couple of trucks, I think, and just drove over and got our gear with us and just asked what needed to be done. And he essentially told us that there were plenty of vehicles they were using for transport. There were, you know, five-tons, and dump trucks, and everything else. And so we — we just kind of — we scoured the parking lot to see who was available and willing to drive us. And he was getting these calls coming in for rescues in certain areas, we just got an address from him, and jumped on a truck, and went to see what we could do. So we spent, what, most of the morning making runs on the [1:07:00] — on the back of the trucks, trying to see who needed evacuation. And I mean, it was pretty bad. There was — there was so many places we still couldn’t get to that we were trying — we were trying to coordinate with Task Force — Task Force 1.
BBr: Yeah. There was — yeah, there was — like I said, Virginia Beach and, again, I forgot the —
BH: No, from Oklahoma.
BBr: Oklahoma, yeah.
UNKNOWN: So we had three task force groups.
BH: So yeah, there was — there was task force groups that we were trying to coordinate with, because there were — there were some areas that had, you know, a pretty good amount of people that we were trying to get out at one time. But some of them were on the other side of the bayou, and we couldn’t even get the trucks that we were in over there. But we did what we could. We spent a lot of time just west of here shuttling people out to — they had kind of designated certain areas as pick-up spots. So we would use the trucks to get them out of the high water and kind of drop them at a central location. And then they were able to get on METRO busses and whatnot from there [1:08:00] — and get to some of the shelters that they were using.
And then — what time of day was it? Afternoon? Early afternoon?
MD: Something like that, yeah.
BBr: It was still daylight, yeah.
BH: Early afternoon, we had — we had gotten back, and it was, what, five or six of us.
MD: Six of us, uh-huh.
BH: He had heard the dispatch come in for the house fire, and we knew it was a good ways away. It wasn’t in our normal territory. And the engine from this station and from 77’s down the road were already dispatched on it. But he told us to try to grab a truck and head that way with them in case — in case there was any equipment they couldn’t bring in, you know, on the apparatus. Maybe we could take a truck out there that could help us shuttle equipment in and out.
And we just happen to come across a couple of guys that had a retired military five-ton that they had as a personal vehicle. And they offered us their services, so we loaded up and [1:09:00] made the trek out to Barker-Cypress off of I-10. So we made it — we exited there. We made it — yeah, we made it to about the entrance of the neighborhood. And we’d noticed that the water was pretty high even for that vehicle. And I think one of us had even told the driver like, “Hey, this is your personal vehicle. You know, feel free to stop whenever. We don’t want you flooding this thing out.” And he looked back at us and said, “No, no, this thing will make it through anything.”
MD: We were like, “Man, we’ll jump out.”
BH: Fifteen seconds later, he looked back and said, “I had better stop here, guys.” It was up to the bed of the truck. So yeah, that’s the point where we hopped out. And we had a vague idea where we were going, so we knew it wasn’t but a few more blocks into the neighborhood. But I think we all — we were all a little surprised when we hopped out.
MD: How deep it was.
BH: Because at that time, it was chest-high or higher.
MD: And cold.
DH: Oh, boy. And cold?
BH: Yeah, and cold.
MD: It was cold. We were like [1:10:00] — as we jumped in.
BH: And so — yeah, poor Carlos. It was like eyeball-high for him. The rest of us were about chest-high.
MD: Carlos floated away a little bit.
BBu: Eyeball, you’re funny.
BH: We just — we had — we had stopped on the way into the neighborhood though and met up with a couple of the apparatus there. And they had thrown us a few more pieces of equipment and some extra hose and stuff like that that they were calling for — the guys that were already there. We didn’t realize that they had all been boated in to that location.
MD: We missed that memo.
BH: We assumed everybody was making the — making the hike the same as we did. So we carried what we could over our heads and tried to keep it dry for some reason. I don’t know why. Everything else was wet.
MD: Because you can’t get hoses wet.
BH: But we ended up going about three or four blocks through yards. And we had to, you know, bust down fences.
MD: We talked about the bees and all that.
BH: Yeah, we were there —
BBu: He said you were kicking them down.
BH: Busting, kicking. There was tools used. There were feet used.
BBu: Kicking sounds so dramatic [1:11:00].
BH: Are you — are you jealy here?
BBu: No, I’m just saying it sounds cool, you know. Your words to me were, “Man, we were kicking down fences.”
BH: We did kick down fences.
MD: I was using the Kool-Aid man analogy — you know, kind of just like — “Oh, yeah.” I remember that.
BBr: While he’s finishing the story, I just want to jump in with one thing — what they — when these guys came back, you could tell — with everything I had going on around me, they came back. And they started telling me this elaborate story about just what he said. But then it got into the part about using the boat for this. And the only thing I could do is I turned around and looked at them. I said, “Did y’all practice this little story the whole way back?”
BBu: Yeah, it sounded so —
BBr: I mean, it was just — it was beyond belief.
BBu: So far-fetched.
MD: So far-fetched.
BH: Don’t jump on the wagon. He’s doing fine.
BBr: And then the next thing I asked them is, “So were any of you wearing PPE skins? You’re in the water. You’re supposed to be –” And they all looked at [1:12:00] Nathan and said — and Nathan goes, “I was.” So he was prepared for a high-water event. I go, “But were you in your gear?” So I kind of had him, you know, either way, but it doesn’t matter. All bets are off at this time, but yeah, they were so in tune with their story. It was just — it was too made up. It really happened. When they pulled the video out, I couldn’t argue that.
BH: Yeah, I remember we found some humor in it, too. It seemed like every yard we went into had a longer ladder. So we would grab — we’d be like, “Hey, let’s bring that ladder. We might need a ladder.” And then we would break through the next fence. And that yard had a bigger ladder. And so we would drop one and grab the next one.
BBu: That’s crazy.
BH: I don’t know what we — I don’t know what we thought we were going to do with that ladder, but we felt it necessary.
BBr: By the time y’all got there, it was burned down to almost the water level, so.
DH: And then later, all those people were wondering how their ladder got in the neighbor’s yard, right?
BH: Yeah, and why their fence was knocked down in addition — in addition to the flood [1:13:00]. I think that was the only thing we commandeered though, ladders.
MD: That stomper — the ground-pounder.
BH: Oh, that became the fence breaker.
MD: The fence-breaker tool.
BH: Yeah, they had a big, heavy tamper.
UNKNOWN: The wall-breaker.
MD: The one that Davis was carrying around on his shoulder.
BH: I think we ended up breaking that.
MD: Yeah, because he used that as a demo tool at the house on that brick wall.
BH: Yeah, I remember — I specifically remember everybody’s faces when we busted through that last fence and just kind of showed up out of nowhere though. I don’t think anybody was expecting anybody else. So they all kind of just looked over like — they heard us banging on that last fence. We came through, and we’re just like, “Hey.”
MD: “We’re here.”
BH: “We got more gear.”
BBu: “We’re late, but we’re here for the party.”
BH: “We got more equipment. We got more hose.”
MD: You’ve got more hose.
BBr: What’d you do on this last one? You’ve talked to enough firefighters and everything else to know that we’re not laughing at people’s misfortune.
DH: Oh, I know that.
BBr: This is all —
BH: Oh, yeah, this is —
BBr: This is — this is the way — it’s either this or we go [1:14:00] stark crazy.
BBr: You know, but I mean, it just gives you a good example of what these guys do every day, whether, like I said, it’s dry conditions out here and they go take care of business the way they do or you hand them every obstacle in the road. And they’re still going to work on it.
DH: It’s a family.
BBu: It really is.
DH: I mean, that’s how I see it. I mean, the comradery that you have, it’s like being part of a family.
BBr: Oh, there’s no doubt.
DH: Maybe you get along better than families.
BH: To some degree, I would say yeah. It’s like family without any of the — any of the hard stuff you have to go through, yeah.
BBr: It’s like family with no commitment.
BH: But yeah, that’s probably what I remember most about that day. That was — I mean, he said we’re not laughing at anybody’s misfortune. But we were — you know, we were — we always have a good time together. It’s always just laughs, so you know, for us to be out there doing something [1:15:00] together, we were having a good time as much as we could considering the situation.
DH: Under the circumstances.
BBr: There’s nothing fun about walking around in the same pair of boots all day long that are not going to get any drier than they already are.
DH: And you don’t know what they’re full of.
BBr: Exactly. I mean, and that’s another story. I mean, it was a good thing between FEMA and the city and stuff like that. I mean, they came back and replaced —
BBu: All of our — yeah.
BBr: – our uniforms, rain gear, and stuff like that. I mean, just —
DH: Oh, wow.
BBr: Yeah, because I mean, you certainly didn’t want to take this stuff home and even just throw it in the washing machine.
BBr: Because you just never knew what was going to be there. So that was — that was a good thing. Again, FEMA stepped up. And anyone and everybody, I mean, from like I said, Joe Q. Citizen all the way up to the federal level. We had just — it was good as far as taking care of the guys. The only thing, I guess, we didn’t do is any type of follow up — bloodwork follow up. So it’d be kind of interesting. But we’re — that was one thing, but I mean, the warehouse [1:16:00] fire.
BBu: Yeah, we mentioned that to them.
BBr: Yeah, yeah, we were the very — same, same set of yahoos right here that spent all day in that, so.
BBu: And that was inhaling it.
BBr: Yeah, yeah, we were all in the — on the other — the complete opposite side of that.
MD: On the residential side, yeah.
BBu: To date, that’s my biggest fire.
BBr: To date, that’s — to history, that’s going —
MD: A historic fire, yeah.
BBr: [Unclear, 1:16:28]?
BD: Heights off Washington was a big one.
BBr: Dude, that was a damn dumpster fire.
BBu: That’s chump change to that one.
BH: The which one?
BBu: Heights. It’s like, “What? Who?”
BH: I don’t know. Oh, the apartment complex they were building.
BD: Yeah, the one that wasn’t even built.
BH: Where 18’s had the rescue.
BBu: Where 18’s had the rescue. I remember that one.
MD: Oh, the ladder truck rescue?
BBu: Yeah, the video. I remember that one.
BH: Oh, it’s in there?
BBu: Is it in there?
DH: Is that in there?
BBr: Yeah, it’s in here. That one?
BH: That’s the one.
MD: That’s the one.
BBr: Yeah, and this was the [1:17:00] — this was the south side of the cityside. And 31’s thought they were going to put it out all by themselves. I was on that side with them. Yeah, that — that was one of those fires that until it burned down to enough — the amount of GPM’s we were putting on it, we weren’t going to put it out. We were overwhelmed by an application rate on BTU’s and wind.
BH: Was that a C-shift day? That one?
BBr: Yes. Yep, that was — okay, you were right, D-E-A. That was clean-burning, Class A materials not that ethyl-methyl unknown there.
BBu: I think it’s still a lot of unknowns from that. Besides the pesticides, that’s all we know.
BH: I mean, it turned all the water in the area red for two days.
BBu: Get your cancer policy.
MD: The red runoff and everything.
BBr: But we thought it was for Cinco de Mayo, because it was Cinco de Mayo. So we — again, you have to make light of everything. The water was red [1:18:00].
MD: Yeah, yeah, I remember that.
BBr: Not rust red. I mean —
BH: It blood red like your jacket.
DH: Astros red?
BBr: Oh, let’s not drag them into that. Yeah, pretty much.
DH: You all have anything else?
BBr: I don’t know. Do you guys have anything else?
DH: No, you’ve —
BBr: We made this all up by the way. No. You couldn’t sit in a bar and drink every bit of beer in it and make up this stuff.
DH: You couldn’t believe that if you could make all that up.
BBr: No doubt about it.
DH: You couldn’t make all that up.
BBr: You know, I could sit here and toot our horn all day long, but at the end of the day, you know, these guys did their job. And that’s all there is to it, you know. They didn’t — they didn’t question anything I asked them to do. And you know, no matter to me, it matters to these people that pay our salaries, you know. They’re the ones that are the fortunate ones to have these guys every eight days. I don’t know about the other three shifts [1:19:00]. But yeah, it was a collective effort on all parts, like I said, all the way up to the federal level. And again, I’ve never seen so many cops in my life.
RG: Do most firefighters make it to retirement? Or do they leave the force before?
BBr: Well, it’s a pretty — that’s an interesting question. I would think the majority of them actually do, but then we’ve had such a — I don’t want to say spike. But we’ve had an increase in the past five years, at least, of cancer. I mean, cancer’s always been a problem, but it’s getting worse now. And the number one reason is — is back when — I hate to put you in my category.
DH: That’s okay.
BBr: But when we were growing up, the majority of your furnishings were cotton-based product or wood. Now, everything is ethyl-methyl plastic, you know, so now, we’re going into situations where these [1:20:00] oval-head firefighters can go in there and crawl on the ground and not use air packs, come out, and smoke a Lucky Strike. And they were perfectly fine.
Now, I mean, you get within 10 feet of the house if you’re not wearing, you know, full protection, you start coughing and choking and don’t know what this stuff is. So yeah — so — and a lot of it has to do with — they’re saying the hoods. You know, because when we take our hood off, it’s still around our neck and stuff like that. So they’re seeing a large number of cancers relating to the throat and neck and stuff of that nature. But yeah — but to answer a long question, yeah, the majority of them do. Because there’s always going to be a group that are not going to make it. You know, they might have escaped that fire. They may have escaped that fire. It’s not that they were ducking their job. It’s just — it was right place, right time. That’s right.
RG: What about adrenaline?
BBr: No, we’re good. Thanks [1:21:00].
MD: Does he need any?
BBr: I just finished mine. I think it’s in a can over there. Well, again, new guys — and I have to pick on probably the newest one right there and, of course, that one over there.
BBr: New guys. It’s just they haven’t got the experience level yet. But I mean, I’m not saying nothing bothers us. But, you know, like I said, I was on a medic unit for nine years. These guys run every day. And I don’t know what year they’re rapidly approaching. But it gets to the point where you’ve almost seen everything — almost. I mean, there’s always going to be something — I mean, I used to — every now and then, I’d go, “Hmm, haven’t see that before.” And that’s about the extent of the surprise of it.
BH: That’s where the joking comes in.
BH: Even at home, you know, I’ll —
BBr: But as far as — you know, yeah, when you step off that apparatus and you’ve got a well-involved structure or whatever else, yeah, you’re pumped up a little bit. But I mean, you’re not the point you’re going to, hopefully, do something stupid, [1:22:00] because you’re walking up, paying attention to your conditions. You know, where is the fire? What’s on fire if you can tell from the exterior — what the building construction is and things of that nature, what your exposures are, you know. The guys that are getting off are more focused on going in and putting the fire out. That’s more my and Ben’s job — is to look outside the immediate fire and find out what’s going on — like that one. We’re there to take care of the overall group versus the individual guys.
But the newer guys, you know, they’re going to have — pumped up. And you see the guys, especially — it’s always fun to watch their first tour at the station. You know, half the time, they won’t even sleep. They’re scared they’re going to miss a run. You know, they don’t know if they’re going to wake up in the middle of the night, you know, when a run comes in or something like that. Or they’ll sleep on the couch versus sleeping in the dorm. Or they’ll stay up all night going through the equipment over and over again just like they did at the academy. So you know, it’s — that’s kind of an excitement thing.
And then they make their first couple fires, you know [1:23:00]. First call, whether it’s fire or EMS, you know, you can just look at them and know that it’s that little-kid factor. You know, they’re excited as crap that they’re getting to make a call. But you know, the whole point of this job is to stay focused, because we all want to go home tomorrow.
Because you know, I just — I just happened to notice the deal with the FLERT from 531 that got killed in the southwest [unclear, 1:23:27] fire. They did everything right. And you say that, and you go, “How did they die?” Well, everything — I mean, there’s one factor that none of us can overcome. That’s gravity. And gravity’s what got them. They were under control. They were calm. They went in with the right size hose, went to the right direction, and everything else. But they did not realize — not realize. They did not know, because the people failed to call the fire in for a long time. And so it got advanced into the attic space. And so when they got in there, that’s when it fell in on them, but [1:24:00] you know, you try —
BH: Back to what you talked about earlier, construction — modern construction, modern furnishings, and just —
BBr: You know, everybody thinks, “Well, man, it’s a new building. It’d be a lot safer.” I’d rather go in an old building than a new one. This new construction now, they build it so — you know, everything is about money in the contractor’s pocket, not safety for the firefighters, so the new — the new truss construction, they’re not — they’re building it way cheaper than they used to, where we used to complain about them putting it together with gusset plates — those nail pads and stuff like that. Hell, they’re building truss now with glue. And it’s a water-soluble glue. So when it’s burning and we apply water to it, it’s just washing the glue away. So now, you have even earlier failure. So they’re not using the amount of wood that used to use, even in residence, and stuff like that.
BH: Yeah, nothing’s solid wood anymore.
BBr: Yeah. So you know, things are basically built to burn. And like I said [1:25:00], the construction industry — and I don’t mean this in a bad way. But they — they’re not worried about us, you know. So — but we’re going to do what we have to do to go in and get somebody out. I mean, there’s always going to be a situation, “Yeah, it’s an old abandoned building.” Unfortunately, Grady Burke got killed in a residential fire that was an abandoned building by all practical purposes. But there was a report that there was a couple crack users or something like that in there.
You know, we’ve got to — we can’t just say, “Nah, I don’t think so.” I mean, it’s our job to take what information is handed to us and act on it — you know, get in there quick. I mean, if we can make a — run the periphery, look through a window. Yeah, that’s good, too. But if not, we’re going to go in the front door, because — you know, like our former Fire Chief Garrison said, you know, “The faster you put the fire out, the more soon it becomes a safe environment.” So longer burns, the more dangerous it is. So I don’t know if I answered your question about adrenaline, but.
RG: Your shifts are three days on, [1:26:00] three days off?
BBr: Nuh-uh, ours is — our schedule is a little different than the majority of the country. We have four shifts. Like today’s our first day. Then we’ll be off — what’s tomorrow? Friday. Then we’ll work Saturday. Then we’ll be off for five days. So we only work — I say only. We work eight days a month — 24 hours obviously. But it’s a 46.7-hour work week. And the majority of the country works one on, two off. So we’re fortunate in that respect — that we have five days off every time we get off of our second day of the tour.
So it used to be — the schedule used to be even better when I first came in, but that’s okay. It was still 46.7 hours. So then when we get parity with the police and [unclear, 1:26:50] — worked just a few more hours than we are and get paid just like they are. We used to have parity — I don’t know if — I don’t know how long you’ve been — but we used to have — when I came in, we had parity with the police officers [1:27:00]. Our illustrious Lee P. Brown decided, when he got to be mayor, that we didn’t deserve to make the same thing as police officers, so. But you know, it’s like I said, they’re going to do what they have to do. They’re going to — you can’t stop them.
You know, and we’ve had people — basically, people that are — their lobbyists, I guess, have told us time and time again, we’re our own worst enemy. They don’t mean that in a bad way, but given the fact of — you’ve seen on TV all the problems with the apparatus and pay and pension and everything else going on, these guys are doing their job today just like they did 20 years ago. I mean, you can’t stop them. You can’t slow them down. Whereas, police officers — you know, when there was a pay problem, well, their response times got a little slow. Or there was an overabundance of [1:28:00] sick usage or, you know, whatever. You know, but they worked that to their advantage so they could go to the negotiating table and say, “Hey, give them what they need, because we need patrol officers on the street.”
But sadly enough, we probably have more successful cardiac arrest patients. We were — I don’t know if we still are. I don’t keep up with it anymore — like number one in the country for if you ever had a heart attack. Houston, Texas was your best chance of survival. And I’m sure we’re still up there. But can you say that same thing about solving a crime on a daily basis? You know, if you really think about it — and this is — a police officer friend told me this — is they don’t stop crime. They investigate crime, because the crimes already happened.
Your house got broken into — your car or something like that. You call the police to come out and take a report and everything else. They’re not the ones stopping the guy, putting the pistol in their ear, and saying, “Get out of that car. It’s not yours.” So — but we’re there every time when the fire’s happening, when the cardiac arrest is happening [1:29:00], when the MI in progress is happening — not him. But we had one not too long ago. That was — had been at a spinning class and started feeling bad — went home, starting feel bad.
BH: Yeah, he left the class, because he was starting to feel bad — went home, because he thought he — he thought he’d feel better once he was done with his exercise. And he actually was a brother of an HPD officer oddly. She lived at the residence with him, but she was working at the time. Yeah, we got there, and he was having a full blow MI — the widow maker as they call them.
BBr: Left anterior descending, yeah, so.
BH: But yeah, we got there quick. The medic unit got there quick. We — they called it in en route. And they were able to — that one was cool. They actually let us, at the hospital, go up and watch them do the whole cath procedure as well. So we got to watch that. That’s not something we get to do every day. And he ended up making a full recovery with no — you know, no ill effects after the fact [1:30:00].
BBr: Came by the station a couple weeks later. Sister came with him, the police officer — brought us a cake. We were kind of skeptical about eating it. You know, didn’t know if she did anything to it or anything like that. Even he goes, I don’t know if you want to eat that, but. So he must really like his sister’s cooking. But no, that was — stuff like that all the time. I mean, you make a lot of nonsense calls. And it can be in middle of Harvey. Everybody — you know, to them, it’s an emergency. And you just — like one time, you say, “Look, yeah, in your eyes, it’s an emergency. But if you would have just listened to everybody to begin with, you would have been out of that situation.” But they want to wait until the last minute or whatever else, so.
BH: That’s the good — the best part of the job though, because I mean, you can — you can deal with a lot of nonsense. And they’ll drive you nuts, and it’ll beat you up. But you make one good, legitimate call, and you make a difference. And it’s — you’re back — you’re back in the game. You’re ready to go again. So that’s —
RG: Regarding Harvey, was there any kind of debriefing or collective lessons [1:31:00] learned or things that you think would be really helpful and not just a report going forward?
BBr: At the station level, not so much. But I mean, I know I had to generate days of paperwork being at the area command and stuff like that. The goods, the bads, then, of course, on top of that, all the — call volume and what it related to — if it was evacuation, reconning the area, things of that nature. So yeah, there was those, but I mean, at the — basically, at this level, no. I mean, I talked — we talked to the guys collectively. But I mean, again, is it going to make — and I don’t mean this bad. But is it going to make a difference? Again, this is not an event you can plan for. I mean, you can see, as a result of it, they’ve increased our boat fleet, I think, by 15, okay? But I mean, we can — it’s like I [1:32:00] told my —
BH: We have high-water vehicles now.
BBr: Yeah. And we’ve got four high-water vehicles. And then there’s talk that they’re going to buy more. But again, 500-year, 800-year flood, they’re not going to start in 800 years, you know. So what — I don’t want to call it kneejerk. But like I told y’all initially, this was a global event. This was not an area event that — you know, the amount of evacuation boats and things like that that we can handle with no problem. This — we could have had an evacuation boat and a high-water vehicle in every station — roughly 100 stations. That wasn’t going to be enough, because we were outgunned by just Mother Nature. And we were outnumbered by the sheer number of people that needed assistance. Now, there is the true fact of some of these people could have helped themselves. You know, because D-E-A was talking earlier about — you know, we make these flooded-out vehicles and stuff like that. Well, yeah, why is it when there’s a flood event — what kind of car do you drive?
RG: I don’t drive [1:33:00].
BBr: You’re tall enough. You can walk through the water, but they always say when there’s a water event they want to get into the smallest, littlest, low-ground-clearance vehicles there are and then drive through this much water or whatever else. So it kills the motor. And they’re in there. They’re calling 911. “I’m stuck. I’m in high water.” It’s like that. And we’ll walk out — you know, we’ll walk out just like D-E-A is explaining with the pike pole and everything else and walk up to them. And they go, “Okay, you ready to get out?” “I can’t swim.” “Well, we didn’t swim to you. We walked here. You’re going to walk out.”
BH: You wouldn’t believe how many people called — people call, because they don’t want to get wet. And they think we’re going to bring a boat to them or something, you know.
DH: Air lift?
BH: Yeah, something like that. That’s common.
BBr: There are so many times that it’s — you know, they can self-evacuate themselves. They can take care of themselves. But you know — but call them dadgum fireman. “They’ll come out here and get me.” But again, a lot of it’s — is legit [1:34:00]. And some of it is — it’s just — I don’t know, serving the citizens of Houston. I’m sure I have — I’m sure I have another term for it, but —
BBu: That’s a good way to say it.
BH: Whatever they need.
BBr: Yeah, you don’t realize how much restraint I have used this whole time.
BBu: I was just smiling.
BBr: Yeah, that’s why they’re laughing. But we appreciate you guys doing this, you know.
DH: We appreciate you taking part.
RG: Thank you all.
BBr: Yeah, yeah, like I said, we got to get me away, because I’ll get fired up and — but the — I mean, not in a bad way. I don’t — I can speak without cussing sometimes.
BH: But it takes a lot of effort.
BBr: It does. I actually think about everything coming out of my mouth right now.
BH: It’s a conscious effort nowadays when I want to do it without cussing.
BBr: Yeah. But it’s so colorful when you do it.
BH: I agree. I think it’s part of my personality.
DH: Thank you.
BBr: I hope this works out really well as far as telling the story.
DH: It’s great.
BBr: I don’t know how many more stations or —
DH: I don’t know yet either. [1:35:00]