Houston City Councilman Michael Kubosh was shocked to learn KHOU 11 Investigates discovered thousands of Houston firefighters were told to stay home during the floods brought about by Hurricane Harvey.
“We have to do better,” Kubosh said.
The councilman is now calling for a review of policies and procedures after allegations by Houston firefighters that the city was caught flat-footed during Hurricane Harvey.
The firefighters’ union believes extra rescuers should have been brought in ahead of the storm. The union also questions an email obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates telling HFD employees, “Firefighters who are not scheduled to work are asked to refrain from coming into the station unless otherwise notified by HFD command.”
Essentially, that email told nearly 3,000, or three-quarters, of the city’s firefighters to stay home on Sunday during the height of rescues and evacuations. The email was sent just hours Harris County Judge Ed Emmett issued a plea for private citizens to use their boats to help assist in rescues.
Marty Lancton, the president of Houston’s firefighters' union, didn’t know what to think of the email.
“That was the most unbelievable, confusing, mind-boggling thing in dealing with the catastrophic event,” Lancton told KHOU 11 Investigates.
But Chief Samuel Peña , Houston’s fire chief, defended the decision not to bring in extra crews. He said in past floods, it wasn’t necessary and believes additional firefighters would have done little beyond sitting at the station and wait to relieve crews conducting rescues. He told KHOU 11 Investigates it had nothing to do with overtime, though.
“All our boats were staffed,” Peña said. “All our apparatus were fully staffed. We couldn’t deploy you...We staffed what we could logistically support.”
But Kubosh isn’t buying it.
“I find it somewhat egregious that we wouldn’t have all our first responders here at the time of such a national disaster,” he said.
Kubosh believes even if the city ran out of boats and high-water vehicles, there still was a place for thousands of trained rescuers.
“All hands on deck,” Kubosh said. “That’s what the plea was from our county judge, was ask even citizens to get involved in rescuing people’s lives.”
The fire chief says what was needed more than extra firefighters were more boats and high-water trucks.
Peña plans to ask Houston City Council for both.
As for Kubosh, the councilman said he wants to get vehicles that can be used for rescues on land and in water.