3,000 firefighters allegedly told to stay home during Harvey

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- As Hurricane Harvey hit our area, we've learned thousands of Houston firefighters were told to stay at home.

The Houston Professional Firefighters Association said 3,000 firefighters were told to stay at home on Sunday, August 27th.

Not only were they told not to come in, one firefighter said they weren't prepared to handle the storm.

"When this was coming in, we fully expected an incident action plan to be disseminated," the firefighter said. "We expected a recall staffing procedure. Extra high water vehicles. Extra life jackets. We had nothing."

This Houston firefighters asked us to conceal his identity. He spoke to us because he's frustrated over emails he received during the storm.

After working a 24-hour shift, he was told to come back, but that changed a few hours later.

"Not long after we received another email from another HR representative within the fire department saying, 'Firefighters do not come back in,' specifically in bold print," the firefighter said.

A message that he said is a low point in his career.

"It's frustrating to say the least," the firefighter said. "Embarrassing would be a better word for it."

The memo confused Jimmy Rushing. His family relied on strangers to escape their west Houston home.

"At the time, I would've liked everybody all hands on deck," Rushing said. "The majority of those who were rescuing were people I didn't know."

Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena said an action plan was finalized the week Harvey hit.

"We staffed up every available resource that we had on the Houston Fire Department," Pena said. "We staffed up additional rescue boats and staffed up our one high rescue vehicle."

Pena admits more could be done, but rising water made it difficult to call in extra help.

He said the department needs more water resources and better training.

"It's critical that we have the right type of resource for the expected risk in this community," Pena said.

The frustrated firefighter agrees more should be done, but it's a statement he's heard before.

"We will receive more boats. More high water vehicles, and all we see are budget cuts," the firefighter said.

The fire department may need more resources, but it was able to take advantage of other agencies, including FEMA, FBI and other fire departments, as Harvey hit.

We tried to verify the number of firefighters that worked the first few days the storm hit. The city is still looking into those numbers for us.

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