Ask the Fire Chief May 2022

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Fire Chief Herbert Griffin

Chief Herbert Griffin

Fire Chief Herbert Griffin answers your questions about the Raleigh Fire Department and the fire service, just ask.

Question: Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, made landfall on Texas and Louisiana in August 2017. Chief Griffin, you were with the Houston Fire Department at the time – what is the most important lesson local firefighters learned from Harvey?

Answer: Hurricane Harvey killed close to 100 people and caused $125 billion in damages. As the incident commander for Hurricane Harvey, I. along with others, learned several lessons during and after this category 4 hurricane.

The biggest challenge for the fire department, and public safety in general, was the duration of the response and ongoing recovery. Ensuring the department was operationally prepared, along with getting the correct public safety messaging to the community and commercial stakeholders who would be potentially impacted was crucial.  

Here are my top five lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey:

  1. Having adequate water rescue assets – Calls for service during the storm exceeded expectations in Houston, and at one point the Houston Emergency Center received 56,000 calls for service in a 15-hour period. The 911 call volume far exceeded the available resources.
  2. Communicating effectively – Coordinating effective communication between local, state, and federal agencies was challenging, causing redundant rescue efforts, data tracking and accountability of personnel.
  3. Handling deceased removal – Due to the catastrophic area flooding, fire department high water vehicles were used as city (morgue) vehicles to transport deceased hurricane victims to the centralized forensic location.
  4. Ensuring fire department logistics – Grocery stores, banks and gas stations were closed so providing adequate food, water, and fuel for the department was a huge challenge. With the help of the US Army, our department was stocked with MREs (meal ready to eat), water and 2,600 sleep cots that were used to sleep additional fire shifts that were recalled to help with operational efforts.
  5. Taking care of EMS/chronic care patients – Providing nursing care to residents suffering from hemodialysis, chronic 02-dependency, behavioral health issues and geriatric issues was a major concern for area shelters, as access to resources needed to care for these patients were limited. Fire department personnel rotated working in shelters as EMTs/first responders due to decrease nursing staff who were primarily being used in hospital settings.

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