Seguin firefighters responding to a call during Hurricane Harvey found themselves needing a little help.
After responding to a call on Timber Elm in the Elm Grove area, a tree fell due to the high winds onto the cab of the fire engine, disabling the truck.
While no injuries were reported, Seguin Fire Chief Dale Skinner said it served as a stark reminder of what can happen in high wind situations.
“It could have been very tragic for us — the tree’s trunk was merely inches from the head of the driver of the truck,” he said. “It is very unfortunate that we lost the fire truck, but it could have been worse. When that tree blew down we were over that 45 mile an hour sustained wind.”
In a pre-hurricane planning meeting on Thursday, local officials put in place a procedure for first responders and high wind speeds.
“In making preparations for the storm, the police department, the fire department, public works and utilities department all agreed that we did not want to put our responders at an undue risk,” Skinner said. “Seguin Police Chief Kevin Kelso said the area he came from had a history of response during hurricane events and the standard was to not respond with sustained winds of 45 miles an hour or greater. I know personally the fire chief in Galveston, and in some other coastal cities, they implement that exact same policy.”
The reason is simple — safety, Skinner said.
“If a responder gets involved in an accident, then we can’t meet the needs of the community,” he said. “The policy was put into place for the safety and security of our personnel and the safety and security of the public so we are able to continue our response. What people many not understand is that fire trucks and ambulances have a very high profile and it would not take much wind to blow it over. You hear all of the time semi-trucks getting blown over during wind events.”
According to the National Weather Service, sustained wind is “a wind speed determined by averaging observed values over a two-minute period.”
“A sustained wind of 45 miles an hour means that it is not dropping below that and, during that time, you can have gust of up to 60 miles an hour,” Skinner said.
During the storm, officials constantly monitored the wind speed in Seguin, but it wasn’t until both the engine and a medic unit were already out responding to calls, when the wind speed increased to more than 45 MPH, Skinner said.
“I believe we registered a maximum of 50 miles an hour,” he said. “They were out before the winds picked up. Unfortunately, we did have the tree fall on the fire truck as they were returning to the station after helping the resident.”
The call to suspend response due to high winds was short lived and no area residents were denied service, Skinner said.
“I believe that was only for a 20 minute period, during which time we did not receive any requests for assistance,” he said. “I do want to point out there was not a delay in any response due to our policy.”
Once the truck was freed from underneath the tree, it was taken to the city’s utilities facility, and the crew went back to work.
“They went back to the station, dried off and continued to do their jobs,” Skinner said. “They didn’t miss a beat.”