COLLEGE STATION – Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) urban search and rescue team has begun taking applications for members of a new Type 3 team that will be based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
“The new team will enhance the existing response capabilities in the region and the entire state of Texas,” said Texas Task Force 1 Director Billy Parker. The formation of the Texas Task Force 1 — Lower Rio Grande Valley — Type 3 urban search and rescue team would provide regional response assets for flash flooding, wide area search and structural collapse, he said. The team could also be mobilized for a state deployment within four hours.
Interviews with applicants will begin in October, and the goal is to have the new team ready to deploy in nine to 12 months, Parker said. He doesn’t anticipate any problems recruiting 90 to 100 responders from the region, which extends from Del Rio and Laredo to Weslaco, Brownsville, Edinburg, Zapata and Corpus Christi.
Responders in the Rio Grande Valley have been working toward this goal for six or seven years, he added. House Bill 1090 was introduced this year by Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco during the 83rd Legislative Session. The bill was not signed into law, but Gov. Rick Perry asked TEEX and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to start the process of developing a TX-TF1 Regional Team in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
This led to discussions with the emergency response community and ultimately to a meeting in Weslaco on Aug. 22 to present the new concept. More than 70 responders and fire chiefs listened to presentations by Parker and other TX-TF1 leaders. Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Department of Emergency Management attended the meeting.
Parker said the new team will be held to the same standards and training requirements as the College Station-based Type 1 urban search and rescue team. Besides meeting the basic position-specific requirements in terms of experience and training, each team member must complete an average of 72 hours of training every year. He emphasized the commitment required both by the individual member and their home department.
Although there are strict training requirements for Task Force members, TX-TF1 Deputy Operations Chief Chuck Jones said local fire departments in the Rio Grande Valley already have trained rescue teams focused on swiftwater, hazmat, structural collapse, confined space or trench rescue. Most of them were trained by TEEX, he added.
Parker said once the new members are selected, a training plan would be developed and a gap analysis would be conducted. Local fire departments in the region reportedly have more than 90% of the equipment they would need for the new team’s equipment cache, he said.
The local response communities already have many capabilities, but they want to become a state asset under Texas Task Force 1, Jones said. “The excitement level is high for participants,” he added.
TEEX sponsors TX-TF1 and is the agency responsible for ESF-9 search and rescue asset coordination for Texas. The idea for regional teams has been around since the beginning of TX-TF1 in 1997, said Parker, who is an original member of the team. Responders from the Rio Grande Valley were not eligible for TX-TF1 in the beginning because of the FEMA requirement of being “wheels up in six hours,” he said.
The formation of the TX-TF1 — Lower Rio Grande Valley — Type 3 team will serve as a model for developing other regional Type 3 teams.
About Texas Task Force 1
TX-TF1 is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and has deployed over 90 times since 1997, including the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, Sept. 11th World Trade Center attack, and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike. TX-TF1 can be activated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management or as one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 28 sanctioned urban search and rescue teams.
Members of TX-TF1 range from firefighters and medical personnel, to structural engineers, and come from all areas capable of reporting to College Station within a five-hour window. The task force consists of three separate units of approximately 80 members each. The teams rotate on a monthly standby, stand down or on call status.
Task Force Website: www.texastaskforce1.org/