Officials: Thousands of Houston firefighters told to stay home during Harvey

Sources said as the flood hit the city, around 3,000 firefighters were told to stay home

By FireRescue1 Staff

HOUSTON — While the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, thousands of firefighters were told not to come in to work.

KHOU reported that about 3,000 members of the Houston Fire Department were told to stay home, according to firefighters. Only about one-quarter of the city’s firefighters were asked to work that day.

When the storm hit, Harris County judge Ed Emmett pleaded: “Those of you that have boats and high water vehicles that can be used in neighborhoods to move people out of harm’s way, we need your help. This is a situation where really government assets are fully utilized. It’s not that we weren’t ready. They were. It’s just an unprecedented event.”

The entire National Guard, as well as Oklahomans and the Cajun Navy were all activated, but an HFD employee emailed all firefighters the same afternoon saying they did not need any more help.

"Firefighters who are not scheduled to work are asked to refrain from coming into the station unless otherwise notified by HFD Command,” the email said. 

“I don’t want to hear about lack of resources or we had all we could,” Houston firefighters’ union president Marty Lancton said of the decision to not bring in additional firefighters. “Emergencies are something you prepare for. You don’t have the answers, but you prepare. In this case, they weren’t prepared.”

Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña said the decision was based on previous floods.

“We had experienced floods in the past, and significant floods, where they didn’t require that type of response,” Chief Peña said. “We had full staffing on all our apparatus. Everything we had available, we deployed in anticipation of that.”

However, a 20-year HFD veteran who was working that day said his station’s crew performed high-water rescues using a dump truck and left a pumper sitting in the station for 10 to 12 hours. The firefighter, who chose to remain anonymous, said the lack of manpower slowed rescues. 

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