People & Places

Vermont sends first responders to Texas to aid Harvey relief

Fifteen first responders affiliated with the Vermont Department of Public Safety have deployed to Texas to help with relief efforts from Hurricane Harvey.

The storm battered almost the entire Gulf Coast region of Texas starting early Saturday and lasting into this week. The storm has since moved into states like Louisiana but has been downgraded to a tropical depression.

The city of Houston, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island, experienced historic flooding. Helicopters and boat crews — including many civilians — have rescued thousands from homes, offices and medical facilities.

Hurricane Harvey
A National Weather Service radar image of Hurricane Harvey several days ago.

Vermont’s first responders have been deployed for 12 days, which includes two days of travel in each direction and eight days on the ground.

The first responders work on Vermont Emergency Management’s Swift Water Rescue Team based in Colchester. An additional 25 members of the rescue team are still in Vermont and could be deployed in the future as needed.

The members who are leaving are affiliated with groups all across the state, including the office of the state fire marshal, the Williston Fire Department and the Rutland City Fire Department.

“We’ve been in constant contact with emergency management of Texas since this began, and the team here has been anticipating this, and they’ve been readying themselves,” Gov. Phil Scott said in an interview Thursday.

Scott said the state received the request that morning through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a multistate mutual aid agreement, and deployed the team almost immediately. “Because of the compact we have to respond within five hours of the request,” he said.

Scott said in a news release Thursday morning: “In the days and months after Tropical Storm Irene our friends from around the country eagerly came to our aid. In times of need there are no borders, we’re all united as Americans to help those in danger.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said one of the Vermont team members works for the Burlington Fire Department. Another has already deployed through Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue. A third deployed through the National Disaster Medical System.

“We have all seen the devastating images of the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey,” Weinberger said in a news release. “In the face of this tragedy, it is welcome news that three members of the Burlington Fire Department with specialized training are deploying to Houston to help in the recovery efforts.”

How others can help

The state’s emergency management office recommends that people seeking to donate to recovery efforts make sure they find reputable charities and “be wary of scammers looking to profit from a dire situation.”

The state office also discourages civilians from going to the affected region to help without affiliating with an organization first, because self-deploying strains local officials who are already seeking to recover from the disaster.

For those looking to donate cash, the Vermont Community Foundation, based in Middlebury, recommends giving to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which has set up the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

For those looking to help in other ways, the Vermont foundation recommends visiting the website of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy to learn about other donation options.

The center identifies more than a dozen charities that are helping with different parts of the relief effort. For example, Vermonters can donate their United Airlines frequent flier miles to AirLink, which is involved in the relief effort.

The center also lists faith-based organizations involved in the relief effort, such as International Orthodox Christian Charities and ICNA Relief.

“Giving is so personal,” said Paige Pierson, the spokesperson for the Vermont Community Foundation. “That’s why we use (the Center for Disaster Philanthropy) because they have all these different resources.”

For broader guidance on the philosophy of donating to disaster relief, Dan Smith, the president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, encourages people to visit the foundation’s disaster relief page on its website.

“If anyone understands the power of philanthropy in a time of disaster, Vermonters do,” Smith said. “It is a fundamental part of our generous spirit. … Our hearts go out to them.”

(VTDigger’s Mark Johnson contributed to this report.)

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