Lending a hand to first responders is the mission of the Ellis County Precinct 2 Response Team, comprised of heavy equipment operators who use equipment like backhoes and dump trucks to make a clear a path for emergency crews to work safely.
“Ellis County is a member of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. One of their sub-categories of agencies is what is called the Public Works Emergency Response Team. I am a member of that particular committee,” Ellis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson said. “What that allows us to do is in the event there is a catastrophic event that happens, whether it is man-made or a hurricane, the North Central Texas COG can call on the folks that are members of the PWER’s teams to bring in heavy equipment and heavy equipment operators. We are all part of the organization that gets the call out to assist everyone within the COG region.”
According to COG’s website, the Public Works Emergency Response Team was created to provide public works assistance when an emergency or disaster overwhelms local resources. The response team was created by and for local governments and operates on a voluntary quid pro quo basis. City councils or county commissioners have to approve the PWERT mutual aid agreement before membership.
“The team that I have put together here that participates with the COG, we are just the Ellis County Precinct 2 Response Team. We don’t try to add emergency because that adds a liability on us. What we do here as a response team, is that we are able to support local firefighters, both volunteer and paid, with some of the assets that we have,” Grayson said. “We have already been deployed on multiple occasions. One of the first ones was a big fire that had caught in a ravine where someone had thrown a bunch of debris. The fire trucks cold not get to that ravine. They called us because we have big loaders with metal tracks on it. So we are able to drive straight on in.”
The members of the response team and it's equipment are a part of the Road and Bridge Precinct 2 maintenance crew. They work daily to maintain the infrastructure in the precinct. The equipment used by the team includes a backhoe, dump truck, portable water pump, track loader, water truck and a skid steer. The team only responds when requested by emergency crews. These requests are relayed to dispatchers, the Ellis County Fire Marshal Tim Birdwell or the County Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Parker who then contact the team.
Apart from on the job training for heavy equipment, the response team member has received additional training from other agencies.
“The Texas Forestry Service have come in and have given us specific training on how to operate equipment and how to communicate with professional firefighters. They teach us how to flank a fire, what is a fire line and where is the safest place to start a fire line. So we have a concept of what they do. They teach us in how to assist them (firefighters) in doing it,” Grayson said. “So if we show up and they don’t have a dozer, we will take direction from incident command, and that incident commander will show us that we need a (fire) line from here to here. The operator gets in, cuts the line, and the firefighters go back in and do their job. “
Grayson said the team has also received training in the National Incident Management System.
According to the Federal Emergency Management website, NIMS is a system that guides departments, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together and manage incidents to reduce the loss of life, property and harm to the environment.
“We train to support to emergency personnel, which keeps our guys in a very safe zone. We don’t have to train for fire suppression,” Grayson said. “We just train for equipment operation. We only perform the duties that are asked of us by fire personnel.”
Grayson said all of the equipment that the team uses is FEMA typed. So if funding becomes available from FEMA, Precinct 2 can submit documentation of what resources they provided to reimburse costs.
Grayson said the team was established six months ago and since that time they have been called out four times to provide assistance. He added that he wanted to be the resource for first responders and be able to assist residents in their hour of need.
“The reason why I wanted to do this is very easy. I am a steward of over a million dollars of equipment and those assets belong to county residents. These assets are used to repair and make safe roads,” Grayson said. “However if there is an emergency and we need to clear a road because of a tornado or if there is a fire where we can haul out water to help save property or lives I have to do that. It is their asset, and it belongs to the citizens of this county. If I get a call from another precinct, I am going. If get a call from Navarro County and the COG knows it, and my emergency management coordinator requests me, we are going.”
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