Vermont Swift Water Rescue Team Heads to Texas

A specialized team of water rescue experts from Vermont is on its way to Texas to help the ongoing emergency response there following Hurricane Harvey.

Fifteen members of Vermont’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, representing communities all around the state, left from Colchester Thursday afternoon to join the effort to save lives from flood waters.

En route to Texas, the force will pick up a sixteenth member, said task force chief Mike Cannon.

The rescuers did not immediately know where they will be serving, but expected to be based in College Station, Texas.

“It’s tragic,” deploying task force member Dave Auriemma of the Williston Fire Department said of the catastrophic situation in Texas. “And in my time in emergency services, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Members of the group are trained in dangerous swift-water rescues, which often require specialized strategies.

The task force brought food, dry suits, fuel, boats, shelter, and all the other gear it will need for the deployment, as to not impact the already-stressed resources in Texas.

“You don't want to go in there and impact the local community,” Cannon said. “They're already hit. We want to go in—no footprint—and take care of what we need to do with rescues or searches, and leave.”

The task force expects to be on the ground in Texas for eight days, with two days of travel on either end of that.

For the Harvey response, the Vermonters will connect with other specialized units rushing in from all over the country to help the effort that’s far from over.

Texas requested the aid of 100 units like this one, Cannon said.

“Everyone on the team has been watching [the Harvey response] since Saturday, and everyone’s got the urge to want to go help,” Cannon told necn, adding that the task force was put on notice about a possible deployment last weekend, before the formal process played out.

Texas asked for the help through a multi-state emergency assistance compact, according to the Vermont Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

That multi-state aid agreement is what Vermont benefitted from six years ago this week, during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, several members of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force noted.

“This is what we do,” deploying task force member Joshua Kirtlink of the Burlington Fire Department said. “People came over for Irene when we needed it, and we’re proud to be able to go out when others need it.”

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, wished the team well on what is by far its most complex mission ever.

“In times of need, there are no borders,” Gov. Scott said. “We’re all united as Americans to help those in danger.”

Cannon said that several years ago, experts from Vermont deployed to Keene, New Hampshire to assist with flood evacuations there, and that their skills are regularly called upon during in-state flash flooding emergencies and tricky rescues.

This mission to Texas is by far the team’s most complex ever, Cannon said.

The responders heading for Texas are only a portion of Vermont’s swift water personnel, the office of Gov. Scott said in a news release, leaving sufficient coverage for the state, should there be a need. 

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