Labelle-Fannett volunteer firefighter Fred Bridgewater looks up at the damage to his house's roof caused by a fallen tree due to high winds from Hurricane Ike.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Ike dealt a devastating blow to fire departments in several Texas communities.
However, the full extent of that punch is still unknown because of power and cell phone outages.
The State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas has been trying to contact fire officials for the past few days to ascertain the extent of damage, said Chris Barron, executive director.
"Information is slow in coming," he said. "We haven't been able to contact people in some areas because phones are down."
Barron said he had received information that fire departments in Gilchrist, Crystal Beach, Port Bolivar and San Leon have been destroyed or extensively damaged.
The fire house in Jamaica Beach had eight or nine feet of water in the engine bay although the structure is built on pilings. One engine left behind was destroyed as well as a Cascade system and compressor, said Chief Steve Spicer.
"We never imagined it (the water) would get that high. I've been here for 23 years, and never seen anything like this. The whole island is under water."
He described the station as a beach house. The equipment is kept downstairs, while his office and training room are above it.
"No one has reported what's going on in the west end. Everyone is so concentrated on Galveston. We have no water, no power..."
Firefighters rode out the storm at Moody Gardens, a hotel/resort, but it was anything but a glamorous stay. It was OK until the generators failed.
Spicer said he and his department were busy rescuing residents who refused to leave their homes. Although they managed to carry out their missions, he isn'tt sure how the engine will fare.
"Right now, it's OK. But, I don't know how the water will affect it."
Spicer said he's pretty certain residents who do return to rebuild will heed the warning next time -- and get out.
Right now, firefighters are staying in the station's meeting room. "We're using the generator to run the air conditioner in there."
The hotel sent mattresses over for the firefighters. "Right now, we're here to protect the structures while the city tries to restore the services. Since there's no water, we have tenders from all over. But, they only hold so much."
Spicer said it's dangerous for residents to come back right now. "I understand their frustration, though."
The chief was in the midst of explaining the destruction around him when his cell phone went dead.
Barron said the association will be gathering information about the departments' needs. "Right now, we just don't have any idea who needs what. But, we're working to find out."
Galveston lost two stations to the storm surge. However, the equipment had been moved out.
Personnel from across the state have been assisting with a variety of tasks, said Mike Wisko, president of Galveston County Firefighters' Association.
Wisko added that his organization also is trying to learn the fate of the 18 fire departments in the county. "We've heard that four may have been decimated."
Alvin Fire Chief Rex Klesel said his department's three stations fared fairly well. "It's been pretty rough. It looks rough around here, but it's nothing like what other areas saw."
Apparatus was moved out ahead of Ike's arrival, and is fine.
Families and volunteers rode out the storm in the fire stations. "There's no power in their homes. So they're all here."
The circuit board in one of the station's generators fried, leaving members to seek alternatives.
And, Klesel said the lack of gas has compounded an already difficult situation. "It didn't matter if you had a generator, if you didn't have gas..."
Since the storm, the volunteers have responded to structure fires and trees on power lines. "We also sent a couple of our firefighters to help out in another area."
Klesel said he's concerned about fire companies in nearby jurisdictions. "I hear some of them were wiped out..."
Bacliff Fire Chief James Westinghausen said his department is in "pretty good" shape.
The EMS station next door, however, was claimed by Ike's fury.
The chief said he and others are anxious to hear from a strike team touring the worst areas. "We know they need everything -- housing, clothing, food. We've been told stations are gone, everything is gone..."