Protecting All Community Members

Members of several of the fire departments in Hood County around Ginger, the dog, modeling the life jacket at a public ceremony at DCBE/Acton Volunteer Fire Department. Holding Ginger is Richard Gesell DVM of Acton Animal Hospital. The man in the white cap in the back row is Bill Walters; his wife Rita is standing in front of him. They own Texas Dog Academy. (Photo by Bill Stone.)
Members of several of the fire departments in Hood County around Ginger, the dog, modeling the life jacket at a public ceremony at DCBE/Acton Volunteer Fire Department. Holding Ginger is Richard Gesell DVM of Acton Animal Hospital. The man in the white cap in the back row is Bill Walters; his wife Rita is standing in front of him. They own Texas Dog Academy. (Photo by Bill Stone.)

The drought that had a stranglehold on Texas for six years, beginning in 2010, began to lessen its grip in April 2015. In north central Texas, Lake Granbury in Hood County filled up during the spring rains; the lake had been down as much as 11 feet. Lake Granbury is one of three impoundments, along with Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Whitney, on the Brazos River. The Brazos River starts in the Llano Estacado area of the panhandle of Texas and flows 840 miles southward into the Gulf of Mexico near the city of Freeport, Texas.

April 2015 also produced a tornado in the county. The Hood County Fire Marshal’s Office asked for a disaster declaration, the first of what would be several federally declared disasters for Hood County in the next 13 months. The area was also struck by flooding in April 2015, with a tornado in March 2016. Toward the end of May 2016, after an average amount of rainfall for a North Texas spring, the National Weather Service began warning emergency management agencies about an upcoming unusual rain event. On May 26, it began.

County Flooding

Over the course of the next nine days, parts of Hood County received more than nine inches of rain. Because the area had been soaked with the normal springtime rainfall up to this point, the ground could only absorb so much. Fire departments, emergency medical services (EMS), law enforcement, emergency management offices, and other rescue agencies marshaled their resources to deal with the effects of the storm complex. Creeks that hadn’t flooded in 30-plus years went out over their banks. As the rain continued and floodwaters covered many roadways, numerous vehicle rescues were made.

Stretched Thin

The countywide event stretched fire departments, EMS, and law enforcement personnel very thin. Access to areas needing assessment or rescue became difficult as roads across Hood County began to be covered with water. The nine fire departments in the county have a long history of cooperation and mutual aid, but the impact of the flooding quickly overburdened the departments, causing each department to keep some resources in their area to provide for the numerous emergencies that were anticipated and then realized. Entire subdivisions had to be evacuated.

As the situation worsened, outside agencies were asked to respond and assist. The Texas National Guard and the Texas Division of Emergency Management responded to the area to lend their equipment and personnel to the rescue efforts. The Texas Forest Service opened its building in Granbury to house those who were coming to help. Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1), which functions as one of the 28 federal teams under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Urban Search and Rescue System and as a statewide urban search and rescue team under direction of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, responded to assist as did Texas Task Force 2 (TX-TF2), an urban search and rescue team headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and administered by the Dallas Fire Department.

Evacuation Effort

One city hit hard by this downpour was DeCordova. Multiple homes near Walnut Creek began to fill with floodwaters, and the call came to evacuate these residences. The DeCordova Bend Estates (DCBE)/Acton Volunteer Fire Department, with help from TX-TF2, began evacuations. High-profile vehicles were used to reach some of the houses as the streets became impassable even for large fire engines. In some areas in DeCordova, water as high as four feet was reported in homes. In the middle of the evacuations, firefighters had to deal with a leaking 500-gallon propane tank that had been swept away by the floodwaters and had lodged against a residence.

Animal Safety

The evacuations were performed without any problems as 10 to 15 homes were cleared. The Red Cross reported that 109 homes were damaged in the flooding around Hood County.

After things dried out and calmed down, the DCBE/Acton Fire Department conducted an incident critique. One lieutenant stated in the critique that, as he helped a lady out of her house, he also had to carry her Chihuahua. He said he would have liked to have had something to do with the dog so he could have had both hands on the woman. As the discussion continued, the idea of a leash or a life jacket for the animals was brought up. The idea sounded reasonable, but the fire department had no information or expertise as to what might work best in this situation. As we contemplated the issue, an opportunity arose.

Out of a difficult event came a solution no one had thought of before. (Photo by author.)

We approached a local veterinarian, Dr. Richard Gesell, and explained the situation. We told him what we thought we needed and asked for his help. He consulted with a prominent dog trainer in the area. These two local businesses studied the issue and devised a plan of action. The American Kennel Club was contacted, and the issue was explained. The idea of getting animal life jackets for each department was born out of the cooperation between Acton Animal Hospital, Texas Dog Academy, and the American Kennel Club. The organizations agreed that the life jackets would be a valuable resource and agreed to fund the purchase cost.

We then purchased enough animal life jackets for each of the nine fire departments in Hood County to have four life jackets each and a carrying/storage bag as well. These jackets and bags were distributed to each department in a public ceremony. The life jackets will complement the animal oxygens masks also carried by each department. The ceremony gave the departments a chance to communicate to their communities the departments’ commitment to the safety and well-being of all the lives they protect - including the four-legged variety.

New Solution

Out of a difficult event came a solution no one had thought of before. And out of this event a partnership was forged that will make the DCBE/Acton Fire Department, the City of DeCordova, Hood County and its volunteer fire departments, and our community a safer place.

Stephen Boynton is a 34-year veteran of the fire service and chief of the DCBE/Acton Volunteer Fire Department in Hood County, Texas. He began his fire service career in 1979 with the department. Boynton became an emergency medical technician and worked for Daniel’s EMS as an EMT/ambulance driver. He also worked for the Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department. Boynton was promoted to engineer in 1989 and lieutenant in 1994. He works out of the oldest station in Fort Worth, Station 18, and will retire in January 2018.

Letter to the Editor Praise for FireRescue columnist David Rhodes

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