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Denton crews remain in Houston area as returning firefighters look back on 'nonstop' rain

Rescue teams have been trickling back to Denton after long deployments to areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey, while other city crews are still assisting disaster recovery efforts in Texas and Florida.

Denton police spokesman Bryan Cose is serving as a public information officer at the Texas Department of Emergency Management Joint Information Center in Houston. Two teams of five Denton firefighters are stationed in Fulton and Rockport. And on Tuesday, a crew of 20 employees from Denton Municipal Electric arrived in Ocala, Florida, to help restore power to the area in the wake of Hurricane Irma, according to city spokesman Brian Daskam.

Most National Guard troops in Denton's unit returned Monday to the local armory at 3105 Prairie St. Hundreds of other Texas National Guard troops met at the armory Wednesday before they were sent home to Oklahoma.

Several Denton firefighters, such as Kevin Tye and Capt. Brian Cox, recently returned to work after two-week deployments in and around south Houston. Tye and Cox were part of a six-person water rescue squad that helped transport an estimated 500 people to local shelters.

They were among the first Denton responders to deploy to South Texas, leaving for College Station on Aug. 23. They had been driving near Houston when the storm made landfall about two days later.

They recently sat down to describe the obstacles they faced in an area where the roads were flooded. Their interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Brian Cox

"When we got on the highway [in Houston], there was a command set up for the Houston Fire Department on Interstate 45. Our very first call was about five miles away, and they told us they were going to dispatch us ... and try to get us to them.

A six-member water rescue squad from Denton stands in front of a boat they used to rescue hundreds of people around Houston after Hurricane Harvey. The squad included, from left, firefighters Kevin Tye, Alan Hempstead, Clint Stephenson, 
Vance Bowden, Capt. Jared Hornback and Capt. Brian Cox.Brian Cox
A six-member water rescue squad from Denton stands in front of a boat they used to rescue hundreds of people around Houston after Hurricane Harvey. The squad included, from left, firefighters Kevin Tye, Alan Hempstead, Clint Stephenson, Vance Bowden, Capt. Jared Hornback and Capt. Brian Cox.
Brian Cox

"I'll never forget this. We all took off as a squad to get down there, and we find a spot down under [Interstate 610] to launch our boat to try to get over to this neighborhood where the call was. So we find a place to launch, and the next thing I know, they tell us to split our squads up into three-man teams.

"So I have to leave the other group there to try to handle this call. I remember us getting to [the neighborhood], and it was in about 2 feet of water. We'd try to drive through it to get the boat launched. And later, when they pulled the boat out to load it back up ... [the water] had risen 10 feet in an hour and a half or so. 

"We had to take a totally different route just to get back around to meet back up with the others, where we were working another call. I mean, it was just that quick, how fast it went up. It was four days of nonstop rain.

Denton firefighters respond to a report of a man trapped inside a truck near a flooded Chevron gas station in Vidor, about 100 miles east of Houston.Brian Cox
Denton firefighters respond to a report of a man trapped inside a truck near a flooded Chevron gas station in Vidor, about 100 miles east of Houston.
Brian Cox

"After that, they sent us over to take another call. We pull up [to a neighborhood] with the three different squads we had, and that's when people were just trying to get out of houses. That's when the whole evacuation started.

"There were people trying to get up in their attic, and we're trying to keep them from getting in their attics. And this is like at 7 o'clock in the morning. People are waking up and seeing what's going on outside their house. There were hundreds of people just trying to get out of this neighborhood."

Kevin Tye

"When we first got there, the Houston highways were already underwater. So these major highways that are five or six lanes in each direction, specifically [Interstate 610], were completely underwater. I mean, water got up to the bridge over them. 

"So as soon as you got on the highway, you'd have vehicles coming the wrong way because they'd have to turn up off ramps. It's instantly a weird dynamic. Anywhere we'd get dispatched to that first day, it would take awhile to get there because you have to find a navigable route that wasn't flooded.

Rescue teams from Denton transported dozens of southeast Houston residents out of their flooded neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey. Denton Fire Department Capt. Brian Cox said the team also helped transport more than 160 dogs and 80 cats to safety.Courtesy
Rescue teams from Denton transported dozens of southeast Houston residents out of their flooded neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey. Denton Fire Department Capt. Brian Cox said the team also helped transport more than 160 dogs and 80 cats to safety.
Courtesy

"We did make it to our first call, and at that point, the option really is, once you leave your house you may not be able to come back. And that's a big decision for people to make. So in this specific [medical emergency] call, [the resident] didn't feel it was serious enough to go to a hospital and risk not being able to make it back to their house. So they decided to stay.

"Part of the difficulty was the people, while we were picking them up, they were asking, 'Hey, where am I going to go? What shelter are you going to put me at?' And really, we didn't have those answers at that point. It was so early on. We were just doing whatever we could to get them out and get them to safety.

"What was interesting was so many people were so far above the flood plain, and they still got flooded. I talked to a lot of homeowners that said, 'I bought this house and they told me I'd never need flood insurance.' And here it is, 3 feet of water in their house."

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Denton Fire Department Capt. Brian Cox (left) and firefighter Kevin Tye (right) returned to Denton last week after a 16-day deployment in and around Houston. They were part of a 6-person water rescue team from Denton that helped transport an estimated 500 people who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.