A report in a local newspaper cited numerous instances detailing how the Houston Fire Department (HFD) was ill-equipped to deal with the flood waters from Hurricane Harvey.
The report showed the department was with either, insufficient or outdated equipment, some unsuitable for high-water rescues, or a lack of staff members capable of handling the emergency because they were not called to work until the crisis was well under way.
HFD launched an internal investigation in response to claims the department was both undermanned and under-equipped during the crisis.
For instance, the department showed only one vehicle equipped for high-water rescues on the force’s ledger, and only a few rescue boats – many already years, or even decades, older than the latest model.
The investigation will further probe the reasons why Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña decided not to call in extra firefighters on the eve of the storm.
Individual fire stations did not receive direct orders from Peña or district leaders to bring in all available personnel, a decision which left many stations without adequate manpower.
Additionally, those who did stay – many working numerous, consecutive shifts – were responsible for dangerous jobs related to ensuring citizen safety during the storm, forced to work beyond the point of exhaustion.
Prior reports examining the Memorial Day Flood of 2015 and the Tax Day Flood of 2016 reached similar conclusions:
These reports showed firefighters were with inadequate training to conduct high-water rescues; their equipment failed to work as needed; and those staffers who carried out rescue missions were severely overworked.
During an interview, Marty Lancton, president of Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341, said the efforts by HFD during these floods points to “one conclusion:”
“We have not invested in our infrastructure or the basic resources of emergency response, and that puts citizens’ lives at risk. We don’t know what else it’s going to take for city and elected leaders to take a stand and make the fire department the priority.”
Amidst other financial problems plaguing HFD, including an ongoing payment and pension dispute, this is a developing story.