Several assets from the Rio Grande Valley have been called up by state officials to help as part of Texas’ emergency response to Hurricane Laura, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 storm along the Texas/Louisiana coast later this week.
Paramedics and drivers assigned to the city of Weslaco’s ambulance bus, as well as water rescue crews from Weslaco, McAllen and Mission, have been deployed to the northeast Texas coast ahead of the storm.
The assets are part of Texas Task Force 1, an amalgamation of first responder teams that can be called up at a moment’s notice to respond to emergencies anywhere in the state.
Known as the “ambus,” Weslaco’s charter bus-sized emergency medical vehicle, a support vehicle, and a total of eight crews departed for Beaumont at 7 a.m. Tuesday in order to assist with Hurricane Laura response, Weslaco Fire Chief Antonio “Tony” Lopez said via phone.
The department received word of the deployment Monday night and quickly readied a crew of six paramedics to man the ambus, as well as two drivers to man a support truck filled with personal protective equipment, uniforms and other supplies, Lopez said.
The bus is capable of transporting 20 to 25 patients, depending on if the patients need to lie down, or can be transported seated, Lopez said.
The fire chief said the crew has been called to a minimum five-day deployment and will be handling “pre-incident” response prior to Laura making landfall.
“They’re assigned to what they call pre-incident response. So they’ll probably be doing some work before the storm hits,” Lopez said.
That work could involve transporting patients from nursing homes, hospitals or long-term care facilities, the chief said.
However, the ambus deployment may be extended, depending on need. A 2017 deployment in response to Hurricane Harvey lasted 18 days, Lopez said.
“Until the job is done, our crew is going to be working in (southeast) Texas,” he said.
Meanwhile, boat rescue crews have also been deployed from the Valley to help once the hurricane makes landfall.
“We’ve got two water rescue, boat rescue teams … (that) are gonna be staged at Bryan/College Station for rapid deployment to southeast Texas should they be needed to cover the Houston/Galveston area, and the Orange/Beaumont area,” said Rick Saldaña, emergency management coordinator for Hidalgo County.
“We have urban search and rescue teams, and also water rescue teams made out of various fire departments of South Texas,” Saldaña said of the Valley’s task force assets.
Lopez commended his paramedics for being able to assist the state in its emergency response, especially after the Rio Grande Valley similarly received the assistance of state resources earlier this summer when COVID-19 cases spiked, putting strain on ambulances and hospitals throughout the region.
“We take great pride in seeing how not only we utilize the state resources down here to help us in the Rio Grande Valley when we’re hurting, but also to be able to respond anywhere in the state of Texas,” Lopez said. “Without skipping a beat, our crews are responding to a situation.”