On Sunday, as Harvey pounded Houston with record rainfall and flooding, 17 emergency responders from Washington received a call to help.
By Monday, the task force was eating breakfast in Utah, on their way to the staging ground in Austin, before heading into flood ravaged areas of Texas.
Scott Heinze, of the Pierce County Emergency Management Department, said the team is heading into a high stress and extremely hazardous environment.
“The water they are going to be working in has sewage, household chemicals, diesel fuel, gasoline – you name it, it’s going to be in the water. So it’s incredibly dangerous work,” Heinze said.
The team is composed of men and women from around Washington – people who are fire fighters, police officers and structural engineers in their day jobs. They are one of 28 FEMA urban search and rescue (USAR) teams in the country specially trained for flood conditions.
Heinze said that while there isn’t as much experience with hurricanes in the Pacific Northwest, the team is prepared for what they face in Harvey’s wake.
“We know how to respond to floodwater and the source of that floodwater isn’t significant,” he said.
Previously this team has responded to Oklahoma City, 9/11 and Katrina. But their biggest mission was closer to home. Washington Task Force 1 set a FEMA record when it responded to the Oso landslide for 27 days.
The team is expected to return in two weeks, but Heinze said he wouldn’t be surprised if they were needed longer.
“It should not be lost that these are true heroes, going into harm’s way at a time where government and emergency management is telling people to get out of that area,” he said.
You can follow the team's work in Texas on their Twitter account.
— WA Task Force 1 (@WATaskForce1) August 28, 2017
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