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Blinn alumnus reflects on experiences as a first responder during Hurricane Harvey

Houston firefighter Joseph Gamez used skills acquired through Blinn’s Fire Science Program to aid in rescue efforts

September 19, 2017

Joseph GamezAs the wind picked up and the water rose, Blinn College alumnus and Houston firefighter Joseph Gamez did what he was trained to do – suit up and take Hurricane Harvey head on.

Gamez, a firefighter with Houston Fire Station No. 46, used skills acquired through Blinn’s Fire Science Program to play a major role as a first responder in hurricane rescue efforts.

“Hurricane Harvey was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Gamez said. “It definitely was different from our daily responsibilities. We had to make a lot of on-the-spot decisions and do things that most individuals would never do in their lives.”

When arriving for his shift as the hurricane was hitting Houston, the 2013 graduate could tell he was in for a unique experience. Three of the five station apparatuses were already making high water rescues, and a dump truck was on its way to assist with the numerous calls for help.

Gamez and half of his crew headed out in the dump truck, while the remaining firefighters stayed behind to help citizens seeking shelter in the station.

“At first, we were rescuing people at addresses we previously had been given, but we soon started picking up anybody who was trapped and needed our help,” he said. “When the dump truck was filled to capacity, we took the individuals to a local shelter and returned for more.”

Later that night, Gamez and his coworkers teamed up with volunteers to aid in rescue missions on air boats. There, his training in situational awareness, building infrastructure, and crew integrity was put to the test. Downed power lines and soggy structures were major complications the first responder continuously encountered.

“We had to be very aware of the situation we were getting ourselves into,” he said.

Working primarily alongside untrained volunteers, Gamez said, heightened his sense of duty to keep everyone safe.

“Everybody wants to be somebody’s hero, but it cannot work that way,” he said. “If you do not exercise the proper precautions and follow instructions, you will only add to the problem – trained and untrained personnel alike. Having the knowledge about the appropriate chain of command was very helpful in this situation.”

Based on the Bryan Campus, Blinn’s Fire Science Program – developed in response to local and national needs for an advanced degree in the field of fire protection – partners with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), the nation’s most comprehensive firefighter training and emergency services instructional entity. Through that partnership, Blinn offers a traditional 12-week fire academy, as well as an online academy in which coursework is performed online and skills are developed during three months of intensive hands-on training at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station.

In 2013, Gamez completed his 60-credit hour Fire Science Technology Associate of Applied Science degree, which includes an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Basic course, an EMT Paramedic Clinical, and the TEEX Fire Training Academy. As a member of the 140th Firefighter Recruit Academy Class, Gamez was named Outstanding Cadet and received a full tuition reimbursement made possible through a grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.

In Fall 2013, Gamez joined the Houston Fire Department (HFD), the largest accredited municipal fire agency in the world. Although his current station is one of the busiest units in the HFD, Gamez said Hurricane Harvey was quite a challenge to overcome. His district alone rescued more than 200 stranded individuals during the disaster.

“It may have looked bad in pictures and on TV, but I can tell you it was even worse in person,” he said. “During catastrophes such as this, you have to get creative and innovative with your procedures. I had to pull out every essential tool I learned in Blinn’s Fire Science Program and put it to use.”

Blinn offers a 30-hour Fire Science Technology Certificate and a Fire Science Technology Associate of Applied Science degree. For more information, visit: www.blinn.edu/twe/fire/.