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‘Absolutely devastated’ First responders shocked by scene

Pilot Point firefighter Chase Stanford and Aubrey police Lt. David Bruce say news photographs and video can’t begin to show what happened to people affected by Hurricane Harvey in Southeast Texas.

Both men went to the area after the hurricane to provide assistance. Stanford helped rescue people, while Bruce did security.

The amount of damage was extraordinary, Stanford said. He saw up close what happened when he went with three firefighters from North Shore Fire Department to Southeast Texas after Harvey to assist search and rescue efforts.

The group deployed to League City, south of Houston and then eventually moved on to Harris County and then on to Port Arthur, near Beaumont, where they rescued people. The firefighters were in Crosby when the chemical plant exploded.

“It was phenomenal,” Stanford said. “I’ve never participated in something so big and it was a honor it to give up my time and show how much our city cared for the people down there to send personnel there.”

They deployed at the request of Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, said City Manager Alan Guard, who said the city covered his vacancy with overtime that will be reimbursed by TIFMAS.

Bruce said others from Aubrey PD went to Southeast Texas: Officer Ryan McLearen, Capt. William Townsend, Cpl. Stacie Nierste and Cpl. Shane Burris.

“We all went at various times,” Bruce said.

Bruce provided security in Port Lavaca for three days and Rockport for three days.

“Rockport was absolutely devastated,” he said. “Buildings were destroyed. One mobile home, I was told, was picked up and was thrown into the power lines and when we came by, it was laying demolished on its side.”

He described a Texas Department of Transportation building that had a radio tower that had blown over and landed on its roof.

Port Lavaca, by contrast, was hit but didn’t sustain as much damage. The electricity was out, water was compromised and the city was under a boil order and there was some flooding.

“The damage that couldn’t be seen was a lot worse than the damage that could be seen,” he said.

Bruce said his heart goes out to the folks in Rockport, who suffered tremendous loss. But he was inspired by the people who suffered so much but were willing to help others, such as with food.

Bruce slept in a Tahoe on the property of the places police guarded. (That Tahoe was an off-duty vehicle.)

“You can’t really understand what it’s like until you drive in there,” Bruce said of the devastated areas, explaining he saw mothers carrying children and going through piles of clothes for their children as well as trying to find food.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” he said.

Stanford, a Sanger native who possesses all-hazard training for incidents such as rescues, has been a firefighter for four years at PPFD, where he was a volunteer for two and paid employee for two now.

The firefighters departed for the area on Aug. 28 and were there for seven days. They stayed at the League City Fire Department, a shopping mall and a bowling alley.

The accommodations at the mall and bowling alley may not have been idea, but Stanford came away with an appreciation for what serving others during a tremendous crisis can mean.

“I’m just in awe with how many people were left with nothing,” he said.

Firefighters receive a lot of specialty training for different areas, Stanford said, explaining he just received vehicle extrication technician certification from Texas A&M University.

“I’ve been open to try and get as much training as I can,” he said. “Pilot Point Fire Department has been pushing very hard to get all the personnel trained in different areas so that we can proficient in all areas of hazards.”

The group rescued eight people total.

“We were first response for fire and EMS – that was what our main job was down there,” he said.

He said his group had to go door-to-door in Harris County and make sure people were out and/or needed help. All the people they helped were OK. His division went by and cleared 209 houses.

“It was the most devastating thing to ever see, to see a group of people standing there and looking at you as you go by,” Stanford said. “They don’t have anything.”

He said his group cleared one house in Harris County in which the inhabitants broke through the attic to get to the roof to be rescued.

The folks his group rescued were taken to a shopping mall in Port Arthur where they received assistance. Firefighters had to receive tetanus and hepatitis A shots because of the dirty water they encountered.

The sights and smells linger.

“Sewage backup, you name it – it was there,” he said.

The firefighters encountered cow and horse carcasses on the side of the road.

North Shore Deputy Fire Chief Shane Tackett, who also is a firefighter for the Denton Fire Department, said conditions were a lot worse than what firefighters thought it would be. He said firefighters were happy to cover calls for fire departments for several days in order to give those firefighters a chance to rest.

He was also impressed that firefighters were still working after days of being on duty even after many of them had homes that were destroyed.

“The good side is going down and getting training because you get experience and training that you couldn’t ever get anywhere else,” Tackett said. “We’re pretty on board in trying to help out anytime the state calls for resources like that.”

He found a sense of caring among people he found in the area and in his travels, as people were always wanting to help.

“When we stopped at stores to try and grab supplies and stuff along the way, people tried to pay for everything,” he said. “Even though they were affected by the floods, they were still trying to help us and just thankful that we were there.”

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