About 200 firefighters and teams from the Texas Forest Service at Texas A&M University began deploying to California Monday, according to information from Abbott’s office. The aid effort also includes 55 fire engines. Several Central Texas fire departments are included in the relief effort, including Kyle, Austin, Lake Travis, Round Rock and Travis County.
“As California continues to fight these fires, Texas will be sending its bravest firefighters to aid in their efforts,” Abbott said via a press release Sunday. “Our prayers go out to all who have been impacted by these devastating wildfires, and the State of Texas will continue to offer any resources to aid in the recovery process.”
Oak Hill Fire Department Chief Jeffrey J. Wittig said that his department sent one large fire engine and three firefighters to California Monday afternoon, Nov. 12.
Wittig said there are many reasons to send firefighters to aid in disaster relief efforts outside of Texas.
“Number one is helping the people in California,” he said. “We also support these kinds of things because one it’s the best training our people can get to learn how to do things they wouldn’t normally see in their environment.”
Texas is divided into seven branches for the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System, or TIFMAS. Wittig said he serves as one of the seven branch resource coordinators for the TIFMAS program, and is responsible for identifying and rostering resources from 24 counties ranging from Llano to College Station and down through Victoria to the Texas coast.
That Central Branch of TIFMAS deployed two task forces comprised of 37 firefighters on 13 trucks from the Austin Fire Department, Bryan Fire Department, Kyle Fire Department, Lake Travis Fire Rescue, Oak Hill Fire Department, Round Rock Fire Department and Westlake Fire Department, Wittig said.
Wittig added that Texas’ role in the California relief effort is 100 percent reimbursed by the state of California, adding the reimbursement includes peripheral costs such as paying for the firefighters who are serving in Texas fire departments that have deployed personnel.
“If I send three people, I have to put people in their place,” Wittig said. “That cost is also covered by the state of California.”
Communications Director for Lake Travis Firefighters Association Braden Frame said that Lake Travis Fire Rescue sent three firefighters to California on Monday, Battalion Chief Eric Carlson, Lt. Travis McAnally and Lt. Adam Griggs.
Frame said all three are certified with TIFMAS as firefighters with specialties in structural firefighting and as task force leaders.
“In layman’s terms it means it they can put out fires as well as lead people,” he said.
He added Lake Travis fire fighters deployed with a Brush Truck 605, a Type-VI Wildland Fire Engine. It is a 4-wheel drive, dual rear wheel axle vehicle capable of transporting firefighters off road while carrying 400 gallons of water with a portable pump that can deliver up to 240 gallons of water per minute.
Frame also echoed Wittig’s statement that the cost of the relief effort is not going to put a strain on Texas.
“We’ve been asked and want to assure our tax payers that this deployment, like every [TIFMAS] deployment, is 100 percent cost neutral,” he said. “Thanks to state and federal disaster declarations Travis County tax payers aren’t on the hook for costs.”
The firefighters from LTFR are right now on a two-week deployment, with includes three days of travel on each side of the deployment and one day of rest, Frame said.
“Basically, it’s one week of travel and one week on the ground working,” he said. “That deployment may be extended based on the needs at the time. That means these three firefighters will be missing Thanksgiving with their families. At the end of the day, that’s the job. When we’ve needed aid, other departments from other states have come in to help us. That’s the great part of the fire service is that whenever there is a need, we will show it.”