SAN ANTONIO – Texas Game Wardens patrol across the state and jump into action when disasters strike. They have a long list of responsibilities, most of which require special equipment and gear.
“This is a dry suit, and they’re very expensive. They can run from $1,500 to $2,000,” said Texas Game Warden Patrick True while holding up his suit. “They’re each fitted to the specific person for water rescue. It keeps you safe from chemicals, and it keeps you warm, too, when it’s cold, so you can keep helping people.”
He then pulled out a heavy-duty vest with a harness to be lowered up and down for helicopter rescues.
The state funds the purchase of some of that gear, but a large chunk comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit supported by private donors.
The foundation supports a project called Gear Up for Game Wardens. Since the foundation's inception two years ago, 800 people and organizations have donated more than $1 million, and all proceeds go directly to game wardens.
The State of Texas funds cadet training, trucks, radios and many water safety patrol boats. But the state budget only holds so much, which is why donations are used to buy other equipment that many wardens deem necessary.
"It can be night vision goggles, K9s for searches, thermal equipment for search and rescue. Central and South Texas are prone to flooding," True said.
A recent private donation of $25,000 enabled the San Antonio region to buy a high-tech drone.
“This drone is capable of night vision with thermal, and we’re going to use that during our search and rescue effort,” True said. “We’re trying to get to where we can attach a claw to that drone, and you could maybe take out a flotation device to somebody that’s stranded in high water.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife already has a drone program with wardens across the state trained to handle them.
"I would argue that our drone program is probably the biggest for law enforcement in the state, so far," True said.
Since the San Antonio region's office — Region 5 — was the one to request the new type of drone, it will be housed in San Antonio. However, it will be available for any region if needed.
"My patch still says Texas, so Region 8 may need what we have in Region 5, so we'll shoot our equipment over there or we'll send a group of game wardens to help another region.
True said the donations are helping game wardens across the entire state.