When Hurricane Harvey hit, I called my fire chief in New York and asked if we’d be putting boots on the ground. When he said there were no plans to as of yet, I wondered if that other group I signed up with was sending anybody – that one I heard from every once in a while via group emails. I know I initially signed up a while back, then life happened and I never completed the application.
I wracked my brain to think of what that group was…what was it called, again? Team Rubicon. How could I forget? I had been a Latin teacher and I knew the history well; Caesar crossed the Little Rubicon and – “Iacta alia est – The die are cast.” I rolled the dice.
I got in touch with a friend and told him about my plan. As an Iraq vet, he was always saying that he missed the camaraderie and purpose of military life. He began his application in earnest as I completed mine. Then the wait began. Was TR looking for guys with my type of expertise? A teacher turned firefighter/EMT?
The process was easy enough, and then we got the notice that we’d be deploying in a few days. I headed to JFK, received my grey shirt, and we were on our way to Houston. A TR veteran named Pete briefed us on the plane. The information he provided only served to get me more pumped for whatever lay ahead.
In addition to my service in Fire/EMS, I also work with patients in a post-acute brain injury rehab facility. Many of my patients lost everything they once had, so I had an understanding of what to expect. I hoped that we could offer some relief to the victims of Harvey – at very least, a bit of hope.
Wheels were down in Houston and I was sent off to Wharton where I was assigned to Strike Team Charlie. My team had the privilege of working with some extraordinary people in Wharton. I vividly remember Howard, a 97-year-old WWII-era turret gunner, and Roy, an 86 year old POW from the Korean War-era.
Work orders received, houses were sized up. Sheetrock was torn down and flooring torn up. The mold was sprayed and a few heirlooms were spared. We pulled everything out of the homes and into the road. We all kept tabs on each other to prevent heat emergencies under the oppressive sun.
Back home, I’ve done salvage and overhaul at many structure fires over the years. In Wharton, though, the long line of debris piles extended so far down each street as we walked or drove along.
I’d never seen anything like that, and yet, most of the people we served showed a great deal of resilience and resolve, trust and gratitude.
There’s so much left to do in Texas. I spent a whole week serving under and with some real heroes. I can hardly believe the opportunity I was given. As soon as I can, I’ll be back.