CRANSTON HITS HARVEY

CFD sends current, retired officers to help hurricane relief

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Hurricane Harvey recently ravaged Texas and Louisiana, but now it’s time to hit Harvey back.

Cranston is no exception to that relief effort.

The Cranston Fire Department announced Friday it would send current and former members to Houston to work with other firefighters and their families as the lengthy recovery process begins. The death toll has already risen above 60.

Private Scott Robinson, one of the Houston-bound members of the CFD’s peer support crew, said Friday that everyone was supposed to head out on Sept. 10. However, the International Association of Fire Fighters called Wednesday asking if two people could head there this past Sunday.

Robinson and private Brendan Colman answered the bell.

“I think this is a good thing for Cranston in general,” Robinson said. “Just the fact it allows us to give something back to the city of Houston from Cranston, little ol’ Cranston, Rhode Island. I think that if something like this happened to us, these guys would come up here for us. I have no doubt. It’s a big family. If we had something similar, I know those guys would be up here for us.”

Robinson and Coleman will be joined this Sunday by Captain Jim Warren, retired Deputy Chief Mike Procopio and Chaplain Scott Brown, who is also retired. Joe Cassalino of the North Providence Fire Department is also heading down to help relieve some of the other forces.

Robinson provided an update on his team, which includes a retired firefighter from Kansas City, on Monday afternoon. They hit the ground running as soon as they arrived, working with a firefighter with cancer who had his home destroyed by flooding.

Six peer support teams are covering all 692 square miles of Houston, according to Robinson. He worked Monday with fire departments in Montgomery, Conroe, South County, Woodlands and Willis.

The work is just beginning, though.

“While the water is receding, the flood waters are still high in some communities and the levies in those communities still require a ‘release’ to keep pressure down on the levy and that keeps the community still flooded,” Robinson said via text message. “But I haven’t been in those yet.”

Danger lurks right near command center as well. Robinson said they are keeping close watch on a levy that contains water with an E. coli level 125 percent higher than pool water.

Despite the possible threat, they persist.

“The reception from firefighters is amazing,” Robinson said. “They are so happy to see us and very thankful. A lot didn’t even know we were out here.”

“I’m very proud of our team,” Mayor Allan Fung said. “What’s important is it’s their recognition of hard work that they’ve done for peer support in incidents like this that they’re being called upon to respond to the devastation that’s going on in both the Texas and Louisiana areas.”

Cranston has experienced flooding before, even recently, but nothing to the degree of what Houston has received. To put it in perspective, the Cranston floods in 2010 came after about 16 total inches of rain. Parts of Houston, according to the Boston Globe, received as much as 11 inches in one day.

Cedar Bayou was tops in Texas, receiving a total of 51.88 inches of rain through Aug. 29. That’s a record for the mainland United States.

While Cranston hasn’t been through an ordeal quite like this, Fung said he knows the CFD will offer whatever support it can.

“Most importantly and sadly [in Texas and Louisiana] there are unfortunately tragic losses of life. The first responders, the stress placed upon them as you’re responding, witnessing that loss of life and the devastation is unimaginable,” Fung said. “We saw part of that, but fortunately we didn’t have any loss of life in 2010. To have a resource to be able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through can be a de-stresser.”

The peer support unit is trained in a wide variety of fields, according to Robinson. There’s no specific bill they fit, working with everything from substance abuse and crisis intervention to family support. They also help confront trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

They’re taking that training to somewhere it’s never been before, figuratively and literally.

“a lot of the stuff we do is family services,” Robinson said. “A lot of what we do is 1-on-1. Firefighters are having a difficult time, we sit down across the table and see who we can refer them to. This is something we’ve never done before at this level.”

Local 1363 Union President and Deputy Fire Chief Paul L. Valletta said Monday that Robinson and Colman were assigned to Houston and, following a medical screening, were paired with local firefighters.

“To have someone who can be a resource to your family, it relieves your mind of that burden to know that they’re going to be taken care of during your call to duty,” Fung said. “There’s something that’s critically important and for our guys to step up to the plate voluntarily, be a resource to those individuals is something I’m very proud of.”

(This story contains reports from Ethan Hartley, associate editor of the Warwick Beacon.)

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