TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas - The sirens, which sounded in the community of Hahnville, Louisiana Monday signaled the end of a long deployment as members of a central Texas storm recovery strike team loaded up their trucks and started the long drive back home.
Mid-morning, on I-10 when the westbound caravan made a stop strike team leader Chief Donnie Norman explained the mixed emotions about the homecoming.
"It's bittersweet…you know, obviously, we feel good about the work we've done. We've missed our families. We feel bad about leaving our brothers and sisters in Louisiana. There's still a lot of work to be done in Louisiana, a lot of devastation down here," said Norman, chief of Travis County ESD1.
"Most of us have never worked together before. We've trained together, but never worked on a big deployment like this. And we've taken those folks. We've put them in fire stations across the state of Louisiana with no playbook and integrated them into the fire service of Louisiana," said Norman.
Some Texas firefighters have been in Louisiana for a month and others were deployed two weeks ago as relief. A couple made statements before leaving.
"I'm just thankful for being part of something bigger than myself," said Round Rock firefighter Ryan Dandrea.
That feeling was voiced again by Kyle FD Captain Adam Laird. "We were just happy to come in and help and give these firefighters some much needed breaks so they can go home and take care of their families," he said.
That work created a special bond according to Bayou Cane Fire Preservation District Chief Ken Himel. "It, they've been a godsend. When they got here, it actually brought tears to some of my guys eyes because they felt like the Calvary has arrived," said Chief Himel.
The central Texas crews were stationed in St. John Parish and Houma, both hit hard by Hurricane Ida.
"It absolutely gave us a chance to just sit back, catch our breath, deal with things that we have at home, because that's the other thing. I mean, we've got tons of stuff to deal with within our district, but we've probably got at least 10 guys who can't live in their homes for which are completely destroyed," said Chief Himel.
Hundreds of calls were answered, each with a unique challenge.
"Yeah, it's just devastation. I can't put it into words. Ready, but, yeah, we needed to be prepared for everything. This was definitely an all hazard response. Every minute that the tones were going off, we never knew what we're going to respond to, whether we had cars upside down in a canal with people drowning. We had house fires, you know, power lines down, cardiac arrest. We responded to every variety of calls that you could imagine," said Chief Norman.
That includes a pet rescue a few days ago. A picture provided to FOX7 shows a dog held by Round Rock fireman Todd Mascheck that was saved with equipment from Texas.
"Regardless of what was put before us, we were going to give it our best effort and there was no building, no life that we were going to not give it our one hundred percent all to try to save it and put these people back to some sense of normalcy. So you've already lost your home to a hurricane. The last thing we wanted to do is hand somebody a pet that didn't survive. So we were definitely dedicated to the mission and making sure that we could try to give people back some sense of normalcy and not let them lose any more than what they've already lost," said Chief Norman.
The return to normal for the fire crew took longer than expected. The main truck had a front wheel blow out 80 miles east of Manor. No one was hurt but the team had to wait for a repair truck to arrive.
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