Berkeley firefighters helping on ground of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey

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Texas Army National Guard/Creative Commons

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After landing Monday night at the Oakland Airport to applause, members of the Berkeley Fire Department who were deployed in Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey were awarded only a short break to catch their breath and replenish supplies before being swooped into another mission.

The second mission in question was in Florida, where the state was preparing for Hurricane Irma’s landfall. Everything happened so quickly that while preparations were being made for Florida, two of the firefighters from the Texas relief efforts were still driving their trucks and equipment back from Houston.

The team of six — five of whom had been in Texas as well — made its way to the Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, just north of Florida, waiting for Hurricane Irma to pass in order to start relief work.

Several task forces from around the country were mobilized and deployed in Texas when Hurricane Harvey touched down. Task Force 4, or TF-4, composed of several East Bay agencies trained for emergency situations as part of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue training program, sent a team of 80 members, including six from BFD. Oakland Fire Department created a roster of first responders from all of the participating agencies.

“Just hours after returning to the Bay Area on Monday, the team was re-activated to respond to Hurricane Irma,” said David Brannigan, acting fire chief of BFD, in an email.

In Texas, TF-4 worked primarily in the cities of Wharton and Katy by assisting ground operations, which included searching neighborhoods in a systematic grid pattern to rescue victims — including pets — and making sure that houses were empty, in addition to running medical aid stations.

Brannigan called the affected communities “inspiring” in a report to Mayor Jesse Arreguín because of their resilience and ability to contribute to their own disaster relief, a reflection of being well-prepared. Arreguín thanked the firefighters on Twitter for their service, though he was not directly involved in the operation.

According to TF-4’s website, the team is still stationed at the Air Force base near the Florida-Georgia border, with no assignment other than to rest and prepare. They will not be able to develop a plan until Irma has passed and the damage is done. Possible tasks might include searching debris piles, providing medical aid and doing neighborhood grid searches similar to the ones in Texas.

Just like reservists in the military, members of the task force also report for duty when activated, Brannigan wrote. The team in Irma is prepared and ready for whatever task they are assigned to.

“They are very versatile and will adapt to whatever needs arise,” Brannigan wrote in an email.

Azwar Shakeel is the lead student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @azwarshakeel12.

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