Post-Harvey, Katy area emergency crews eyeing military surplus for new equipment

Katy Fire Department Chief Russell Wilson (right) and Assistant Chief Kenny Parker unveiled their new LMTV, 2.5-ton truck for high-water capability after the Katy City Council meeting Sept. 11. The vehicle is capable of operating at near-full submersion.

Katy Fire Department Chief Russell Wilson (right) and Assistant Chief Kenny Parker unveiled their new LMTV, 2.5-ton truck for high-water capability after the Katy City Council meeting Sept. 11. The vehicle is capable of operating at near-full submersion.

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Post-Harvey, Katy area emergency services eyeing military surplus for new equipment
Image description
Post-Harvey, Katy area emergency services eyeing military surplus for new equipment
Katy-area law enforcement is turning to national programs for equipment purchases, particularly in regard to flood rescue vehicles. After Tropical Storm Harvey highlighted the need, Katy Fire Department, Harris County Emergency Services District No. 48 and the Westlake Fire Department are considering using military surplus.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program allows state, local and tribal law enforcement to acquire surplus military equipment at a reduced cost. Katy area agencies have used the program for purchases that were either denied by their respective governing bodies or were inexpensive enough that the requesting agencies already had the funds available.

In the case of the latter, purchasing equipment directly is faster than seeking council or commissioners’ approval. One example was a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle with high-water capabilities, which KFD bought for about $5,000 on Sept. 11.

“We have also ordered a swift-water rescue boat [for $19,000],” KFD Chief Russell Wilson said. “I’m not talking about a flat bottom with a 35-horsepower motor; I’m talking about a specifically designed swift-water rescue boat.”

Katy Police Department is also converting surplus vehicles into high-water vehicles, Assistant Chief Tim Tyler said.  Harris County ESD No. 48 is also considering using the program to obtain another high-water vehicle and trailers, Fire Commissioner Russell Solomon said.

“We’re still working on the budget for next year, but I do know we’re working on putting in a dollar amount aside for vehicles like that,” he said.

At the recommendation of the Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group, the Obama administration limited the 1033 program in 2015 to prohibit purchases of tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets and certain camouflage uniforms. President Donald Trump reversed those restrictions Aug. 28.

Local agencies have used other programs to purchase equipment as well.

In August before the storm, KFD received a $2.18 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire 16 firefighters and build a second fire station, according to Wilson and Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner.

Six weeks before Harvey hit Texas, Harris County ESD No. 48 received two rescue boats and supplementary equipment with money from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The district unsuccessfully requested the funds from Harris County, ESD 48 Fire Chief Jeff Hevey said.

“The equipment proved to be invaluable to not only our community but neighboring communities as well,” he said. “We were able to help rescue hundreds of residents over the catastrophic multiday event.”

After the storm, Harris County ESD No. 48 also accepted six boats from the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to  Lt. Simon VanDyk, the district’s public information officer. The district distributed the boats to agencies including WFD and KFD.

“Basically, we just called our neighboring departments and said, ‘Hey, DPS just gave us six boats that they’re not going to take home. Do you need any of these?’” he said.

WFD has a 12-foot boat with a 25-horsepower motor, but the department would like another high-water vehicle and a boat with a larger motor for flooding, Chief Mark Palmer said.

“We’re probably going to do military surplus,” he said. “We’re going to look in Texarkana, San Antonio and Fort Worth at those three locations for military surplus.”