San Antonio firefighters join elite state team in response to Hurricane Dorian

Local firefighters in Carolinas ready to respond from ground and air

As states in Hurricane Dorian's path are sending out calls for help, some of San Antonio's most skilled firefighters are answering that call.

The crews are part of an elite state team called Texas A&M Task Force 1. 

Though the mission is dangerous and overwhelming, it's one they've taken on many times before. They glide through the floodwaters. They hang from the air rescuing survivors, and they sort through miles of rubble.

"Each component of the task force functions slightly different but still is headed by the Special Operations Command and the local (emergency operations center)," said Joshua Powell, a San Antonio firefighter. 

Powell has been part of the San Antonio Fire Department's rescue team for 14 years and has qualified for Texas A&M Task Force 1 for 13 years. 

"Getting onto the helicopter search and rescue team, I had to reapply for that position, and then we train about once or twice a month," Powell said.

He's one of only three San Antonio firefighters on the task force helicopter team and one of 18 in the state. That specific expertise means he's been called out for many major disasters, including hurricanes Rita and Harvey. 

"We get calls for people stranded or trapped or the water's rising or on top of their roofs, and we'll try to respond in coordination with the boat teams, as well. We also might be tasked with survey searching afterwards to do surveys of all the damage of areas," Powell said. 

He's worked on different task force teams and knows what his SAFD brothers and sisters may face during their Hurricane Dorian response.

"The structure guys will go in everywhere that's been hit by the hurricane and follow through. We check the structures, make sure they're safe, make sure nobody's left in them," Powell said. 

All teams rescue people and help meet their immediate needs.

"At Harvey, we'd bring somebody up that had a colostomy bag. So you have to think, 'OK, well, they probably need a new colostomy bag.' So we'll call that in ahead of time," Powell said. "Are they anaphylactic from ants or from trees they may be holding onto, or do they have hypothermia?"

Heroes like Powell put their own lives second to people not only in San Antonio and Texas but everywhere and anywhere.

Five San Antonio firefighters were originally dispatched to Florida, but they are now heading to the Carolinas as Dorian shifts course. They could stay for weeks, or until they're no longer needed in the disaster areas.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman

Courtney Friedman joined KSAT 12 News in August 2014 as a general assignments reporter. She graduated as a proud Longhorn from the University of Texas, with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. In 2013, she was nominated for a Barbara Jordan Award for her stories about people with disabilities in the workplace.