Ashley Scott, digital media specialist for the City of Victoria
During a person’s career there are always moments that stand out. For most these may be big projects or promotions. For a firefighter, though, these times may include natural disasters. Being that we are in the middle of a pandemic, something fairly new to us, I thought it’d be interesting to see how a first responder’s perspective changes as they experience disasters at different phases of their career.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet (via Zoom) with current Fire Chief Robert Fox, who was a boots-on-the-ground firefighter/paramedic during the 1998 flood. Fast forward 19 years and he was assistant fire chief during Hurricane Harvey, a hurricane the likes of which we’d never experienced. Now, as Victoria fire chief, Fox holds a pivotal role in planning and preparing during any type of disaster in Victoria. We’ll start off in 1998...
1998 Flood | Job title: Firefighter/paramedic
Q. You began your career the summer of 1996. Was the `98 flood your first big natural disaster type of emergency?
Yes. I was actually in San Marcos when the rain hit and was stuck. I had to go to Austin, stay the night, and it took 4 to 5 hours to get home to get to work. The flood hadn’t hit Victoria yet, but I was at ground zero when the flood started. I was able to get a firsthand account of what Victoria was going to experience. That helped me brace for what was to come. The unique thing is that when the flood hit Victoria, the weather was amazing. The feeling was different because the water just kept coming. In 1997, we had just finished swift water rescue training, so we were prepared to put our training to use.
Q. Looking back, do you think you realized you were a part of something that hasn’t happened since 1936 - and that this was 3x worse?
I think when we woke up that next morning we realized this flooding was monumental. Being from Cuero, where the flood hit first, I was able to see from my family what was happening. They sent pictures of houses in the middle of the main drag. So I recognized that this was going to be something major relatively quick. In 1998 nobody working in emergency services at the time had seen or experienced a flood in Victoria of this magnitude.
Q. How did this experience help you for future natural disasters in Victoria?
One of the main things, early in my career, that I learned from the `98 flood is that disasters are going to happen locally. Disaster response was not part of the initial training for firefighters in 1998. You have to be very patient, plan and prepare and allow for things to change and keep changing. Planning and preparing is crucial. I wasn’t involved in the prepare-and-plan aspect of the flood, I was “boots on the ground,” but I took note of how important it is to be prepared and to have a plan.
After the flood there were a lot of actions taken to have Victoria prepared for future floods. We literally have a guide built that indicates if the river is at a certain level, then this is what to expect, and we are able to respond. Now we know exactly what the impact is going to be on residences and the city infrastructure. That single event modernized flood preparedness for Victoria.