Vermont Water Rescue Team Deploys To Texas

Aug 31, 2017

A crew of Vermont first responders is traveling to Texas with truckloads of equipment and five boats for an eight-day emergency response mission.

Task Force One is a special unit made up of first responders from all over the state.

“They’re responding to Texas under what we call the Emergency Management Assistance Compact – EMAC,” said Chris Herrick, Vermont’s deputy commissioner of public safety.

He says the same EMAC program was instrumental six years ago when crews from other states helped Vermont respond to the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene.

“This is kind of a little bit of our payback. We needed assistance and got help, and now we’re offering it,” Herrick said.

The Task Force One Swift Water Rescue team is part of a national response to Texas’ request for 100 swift water rescue teams.

Mike Cannon is the head of Colchester Technical Rescue and is leading the task force deployment.

“Everybody here is willing to go, they’ve been waiting since last Friday to get the call from emergency management,” Cannon said with the team standing behind him at the Colchester Rescue headquarters Thursday morning, hours before they departed.

Along with the five boats, five vehicles and three trailers with rescue equipment, Cannon says the crew is bringing everything they need for shelter, food and water.

The 15-person team traveling to Texas from Vermont's Task Force One is bringing enough fuel, food, water and shelter to be self-sustaining during their eight-day mission.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

“We don’t want to be an impact on an area that’s already impacted,” he said, “so we go down and we set up our shop, and we take care of what we get tasked to take care of without putting any footprint on what’s already there.”

The task force trains regularly for water rescues, but officials said this is its first out-of-state deployment.

"They are distinguished by their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good." - Gov. Phil Scott

The team will travel for about two days, then set up a base of operations in College Station, Texas.

Between contaminated flood water and reports of smoke rising from a chemical plant in nearby Crosby, Texas, the team faces some risk - but Cannon says the crew is bringing some decontamination equipment.

“You know we will try to keep ourselves out of that, but we do have decontamination ability for whatever's in the water, which is usually not good,” he said.

Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Chris Herrick, background, said Vermont crews are going to Texas as part of the same nationwide mutual aid program that brought out-of-state crews to Vermont to help with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

Gov. Phil Scott said the 15-member crew represents the best of Vermont.

“When most of us see a threat, we run from it,” he said. “But the members of our military, law enforcement, firefighters and others like them run towards it. They are distinguished by their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.”

The Vermont team isn't the only group from New England helping in Texas; a coast guard helicopter crew from Cape Cod and a Connecticut National Guard cargo plane also deployed to help with rescue efforts related to storm Harvey.