Not all heroes wear capes.
Some don uniforms, colored in navy blue, embellished only with a red patch. On that patch is an insignia and the words that read - Mansfield Fire & Rescue.
Few knew, after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast, members of the Mansfield Fire and Rescue took off in two different directions. Both on a life-saving mission in South Texas a little more than a month ago.
Kevin Sandifer, Captain with Emergency Medical Service's, and a 13 year veteran, said the sequence of events leading up to deployment was well organized and swift.
"We were the first group that went down as part of an ambulance strike team," Sandifer said. "The state is divided into emergency medical task force sectors of which we are a part. The day before the hurricane was to make landfall we received a request from the state looking to see if anyone had available resources that could help."
Sandifer said it was around noon when the request came in, so he checked with the chief.
"The chief said to talk with the guys and see if any are interested, they were – lots of them," Sandifer said. "About 3 p.m. I sent a response back and said ‘yes,’ we could provide a command vehicle and one ambulance."
Sandifer said he got no further than just feet from his desk, seconds after he sent the message, that his phone was ringing.
"The voice on the other end was saying we need you to go and go now," Sandifer said. "It was that fast. The storm was intensifying so quickly we were a little behind the eight ball."
The Mansfield contingent made their way to a staging area in Arlington where they joined the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
"I was told I would be in charge of a five ambulance strike team," Sandifer said. "We left Arlington around 7 p.m. with two other ambulances from Sacred Cross, a private service out of Denton. When we arrived in San Antonio, we were assigned two more ambulances completing our team."
He said it was midnight when they arrived in San Antonio. Once they checked in, they immediately received orders.
"They said they realized we'd been up for a while and didn't have to take the assignment but they needed help – NOW," Sandifer said. "We all said let's go and headed toward Corpus Christi."
The team arrived in Corpus Christi at 5:30 a.m. and went straight to Corpus Christi Shoreline Hospital.
"Our first mission was taking patients from the hospital back to San Antonio or some other place," Sandifer said. "The first patient we encountered was having active seizures and had to be taken to New Braunfels."
Sandifer said the next day the team received their next mission which was to head toward Victoria.
"It looked like a tornado had been through there," Sandifer said. "One of the hospitals, DeTar, had suffered some structural damage. They were missing a few windows, no air conditioning, no water and their emergency room was still open. But they had to be; calls were still coming in."
The team went there to transport patients to San Antonio and Austin. The only problem was, like in Corpus Christi, it wasn't a hop-skip and a jump to the other locations. To San Antonio, it was 116 miles and to Austin, 125.
"Usually a long trip for us is Fort Worth," Sandifer said.
On the third day, that's when Sandifer said things got a little, "sketchy."
"Some of the roads were being closed right behind us," Sandifer said. "So we were concerned how we were going to get back. None of us knew anything about the area.
He said he spent the entire time on the phone with officials from the state and looking at GPS while his team did all the work.
"I had a great group of guys," said Sandifer. "They stepped right up, the first ones to take care of the patients, especially the group from Mansfield."
All total the team was there six days before returning home.
"I think it was the first time any of us had seen anything of this magnitude," Sandifer said. "The area affected just kept growing and growing. At one point we looked at the flood zone response area and it was the size Connecticut."
Sandifer said they had so much work the team never made it to Houston.
"It didn't matter who you were; race religion or creed it was people," Sandifer said. “It was Texans and we were there to help."
Swift water rescue
Joshua Planas, a member of the Mansfield water rescue unit and pilot of a hovercraft headed in a different direction.
Planas and his group headed to Port Arthur after deploying from College Station.
"We went into areas where water was anywhere from ankle deep to over your head," he said. "We searched areas for people who were still in their homes and wanted out."
Planas said they made several rescues, some just minutes after arrival.
"Some of the areas we went into had already been searched, but people decided once they had run out of food and water it was time to get out," Planas said. "I think most people thought the water would have receded faster than it did and it hadn't."
Once on dry land, it was determined then what the need of the individual was and how best to serve them.
Just want to help people
“One key attribute I think is requisite for all firefighters and responders is the desire to help others in need,” said Mike Ross, Assistant Chief/Operations. ‘“I want to help people’ is probably the most commonly uttered statement in every firefighter's interview.”
Ross said the fire service, as well as EMS, seems attracts those people who are willing to make sacrifices for someone else.
“Even though we are in a smaller department, that doesn't stop us from offering our help to those in need,” Ross added. “The guys who responded worked long hours in austere conditions. Many nights were spent driving or without sleep, but I am certain that if they were asked, they would do it again.”
He said the use of the hovercraft did give a bit of notoriety to their department because they were able to reach areas traditional boats were not able. It allowed them to make more rescues.
“I am very proud that my department was able to answer the call and support Texas and its citizens,” Ross said. “But we could not have done it without the support and blessing of city management.”
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274