HOUSTON — "This was unlike anything we've done before."
Deputies Scott Cogburn, David Rhen and Luther Eta, with the Harris County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, had never rappelled over the side of a bridge.
But when 11 Greenpeace protesters suspended themselves from the Fred Hartman Bridge Thursday, the deputies were called to duty along with Houston and Baytown firefighters.
"Unfortunately we have not trained over the side of a bridge. Normally, we're on the side of a building."
They rappelled down to the protesters who were dangling 200 feet over the Houston Ship Channel.
The deputies said they got some remote help and advice from the New York City Police department but it wasn't as easy as it looked from far away.
"There was, I would say, a 30 mile-an-hour wind that was pushing you underneath the bridge," Rhen said. "You're assuming a lot of liability in conducting this operation."
Each retrieval took them about one hour.
Keeping the protesters safe – not knowing if they would be peaceful – was a top priority.
Knowing their gear inside and out was a must.
"When you're coming off that edge, it's nerve-wracking," Cogburn said.
You'd think nerves would be even higher for Deputy Luther Eta, who had never rappelled in a live operation.
"Deputy Cogburn said, 'Hey, there's another one up there, you want it?'", Eta said. "I was like, 'I guess I'll go if everyone else is going.' I guess after seeing the repetition, the confidence in our guys, the fire department helping out, that really calmed me."
"Once you get down, it's almost peaceful."
Peaceful. Exactly the way first responders hoped this would end.
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