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Philadelphia firefighters answer the call for Hurricane Harvey help

Members of Pennsylvania-Task Force 1, an urban search-and-rescue group overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, made the 22-hour trip to Texas


By Frank Kummer and Melanie Burney

Even before Hurricane Harvey had made landfall, first responders and others from the Philadelphia region were on the ground in Texas ready to help with the aftermath of the megastorm whose rains are expected to continue well into the week.

And other groups are already mobilizing or preparing to do more.

Members of Pennsylvania-Task Force 1, an urban search-and-rescue group overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, left Philadelphia about 3 a.m. Sunday morning for a 22-hour drive to Texas.

About 45 members of the task force left a facility on New State Road where they loaded compressors, generators, food, medical equipment and other items stored in a long convoy of vehicles. About 20 members are from the Philadelphia Fire Department. In all, the group was comprised of firefighters, search and rescue specialists, medical personnel and K9 units.

The group should arrive late Sunday night at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, according to department spokeswoman Kathy Matheson. From there, they will be dispatched ready to help with urban search and rescue, collapsed building and water-rescue services.

“The task force has to be completely self-sufficient for a week,” Matheson said. “They can’t expect there will be power.”

The Task Force will also meet up with a couple of members who headed to Texas before Hurricane Harvey struck — Randy Padfield, deputy director for response at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Ken Pagurek, a Philadelphia firefighter and team leader of PA-Task Force 1.

The Philadelphia Red Cross dispatched a volunteer from Bucks County to Texas on Thursday before the storm hit to assist with logistics, said spokesman Dave Skutnik. Additional volunteers are on standby, if needed, along with three vehicles stocked with disaster relief supplies, he said.

“We are just waiting for the word they are needed,” Skutnik said Saturday.

Additional volunteers were brought in Saturday to staff the Red Cross’ regional call center in Center City, he said. About a dozen volunteers are handling calls from people in Texas seeking shelter or assistance, he said.

New Jersey has also sent about a dozen Red Cross volunteers to Texas and is prepared to send additional resources, said Diane Concannon, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey region. “We are on standby,” she said.

The Red Cross depends on financial donations to be able to provide disaster relief immediately. Those wanting to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey can do so by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or texting the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Donors can designate their donation to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts by choosing that option when donating on or on 1-800-RED CROSS. If paying by check, write the words Hurricane Harvey in the memo line.

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