Two Historic Hurricanes Mean Deployments for County’s Public Safety Staff

VATF-1 team supplies and canines ready to leave for Irma deployment.

Editor’s Note: Close to 100 Fairfax County public safety personnel from multiple agencies are helping our neighbors to the south with the ongoing recovery from Harvey in Texas and the expected emergency needs in Florida from Irma. Here is an update of their work.

Fourteen members of Fairfax County’s Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF-1) team arrived home at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5 after assisting with swift water rescues in Texas. An hour later, 80 members (and four canines) of VATF-1 found out that they would head to Alabama the next day, Sept. 6, to get their assignment to assist with the devastation anticipated from Hurricane Irma – including many of the same team members that had been in Texas.

It is the first time that this search and rescue team, who are from our Fire and Rescue Department, has had a less than 24-hour turnaround to assist with back-to-back historic storms. According to Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Bowers, this is what they train for and they are ready.

“Irma is expected to be a devastating storm, with the possibility of loss of life and property. Virginia Task Force 1 has the needed experience, skills and training – and they will be ready and in place to help when the storm hits.”Richard Bowers, Chief, Fire and Rescue Department
First Stop – Harvey in Texas
VATF-1 assisting with water rescue in Texas.

VATF-1 assisting with water rescue in Texas.

On Aug. 27, 14 members of  VATF-1’s swift water team were deployed to Texas to help with the search and rescue efforts in the Houston area. They spent a week in the area and had 10 rescues, as well as multiple assists to help residents retrieve valuables and pets left in their homes.

In addition to our VATF-1 Team, the National Capital Region Incident Management Team including seven Fairfax County employees, was deployed to assist with shelter operations in Nacogdoches, Texas. County staff from the Office of Emergency Management, Police Department and Fire and Rescue Department have been assigned to help the local emergency operations center operate a shelter that is housing more than 115 storm survivors.

What is Virginia Task Force 1?

Fairfax County’s 210-member team consists of firefighters, paramedics, search and rescue specialists, structural engineers, physicians, hazardous materials specialists, planning and logistical staff, and canines and handlers. In addition to its regular complement of equipment, the team will also deploy with two inflatable boats, and water rescue specialists.

As the federal sponsoring agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pays for all costs and expenses incurred by VATF-1 when members are activated  All training, equipment and personnel costs of VATF-1 are also paid for by the federal government on a regular basis, including its training facility in Lorton. Additionally, when firefighters and members are deployed, there is no loss in emergency response or service to Fairfax County residents, as minimum staffing for all apparatus is continuous for all fire and rescue stations.

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