Update Thursday: Lexington's crew found out about 8 p.m. Wednesday that they were not leaving for Texas as initially planned. The firefighters are on standby prepared to leave when the organizers of emergency services and search and rescue crews in the hurricane-ravaged areas renew their request.
There was no hesitation from Wes Gilliam about responding to a second massive natural disaster.
A member of the Lexington Fire Department team that helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Gilliam is one of 20 firefighters who left Wednesday for rescue and relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Gilliam, a rescue technician, said the team will make a difference once it arrives in College Station, and it’s an honor to help.
“It’s a bad situation but, like you hear over and over, this is what we train for,” he said. “I’ll put our training and our people against anybody in the nation.”
On Friday, Texas sent an emergency management assistance compact request for a water rescue team, and Lexington submitted paperwork the same day.
The crew was put on standby until 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and left about15 hours later.
The group of 20 includes nine water rescue techs, a couple of task force leaders and rescue officers, said special operations Maj. Chad Traylor. In addition to SUVs and trucks, they took two boats for the possible nine-day mission. The group will go where it is directed.
“Initially they asked for water rescue, so we presume we will be doing water rescue, but in events like this, we could be detailed in anything,” Traylor said.
The unit was a part of relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when it responded to Mississippi flooding. That was the group’s last out-of-state mission.
“We train for emergencies that are going to happen here,” Traylor said. “We train routinely nonstop throughout the year to stay sharp.”
Gilliam said he and other members who were involved in the Katrina relief efforts have used those experiences to train others.
“We threw stuff at them that we experienced, so we have prepared them along the way,” he said.
More than 30 Lexington firefighters responded to the call to go to Texas, and many had to be turned away, Traylor said.
Others will step in and fill the shifts of those who left for Texas. Traylor said there normally is a three-shift platoon system with about 60 rescue techs.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who attended the team’s debriefing before the send-off, said the department demonstrated sympathy and discipline in its desire to care for and protect others.
“We are a caring and compassionate city, but we are also disciplined and prepared,” he said. “There is an incredible tradition within this department, more than a century. It has been illustrated today as these members of this department go on this mission.”