ELIZABETH, NJ — Two members of the Elizabeth Fire Department are lending a hand to the rescue effort in response to Hurricane Harvey, which started hitting Texas last weekend with record-breaking rainfall.
Capt. Gary Haszko and firefighter Louis Zelekovic, who both serve on the NJ Task Force 1, were both deployed Sunday to Katy, Texas, after Gov. Chris Christie gave the green light. They’ll be deployed as members of the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System.
“During Superstorm Sandy, emergency and law enforcement response contingents from around the country came to our aid,” Christie said in a statement. “New Jersey stands ready to assist Texas with their search and rescue response to the destruction and devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey and the recovery process begins.”
Haszko has been with the Elizabeth Fire Department for over 25 years and Zelekovic for about 10, said FMBA Local 9 Vice President David Bialas. Both have been serving on the state task force for about 15 years, he added.
“They’re going to be deploying the boats and going through the areas that need rescue,” Bialas said, adding that they’ll also assist with surveying the area.
Harvey first made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, and at least five people have reportedly died as a result of the storm.
Up to 30 inches of rain had fallen in some areas of the region and the National Weather Service has forecasted up to 50 inches in some locations.
There are about two dozen Elizabeth Fire Department members that are assigned to the state task force, Bialas said. The state Task Force 1 and Urban Search Rescue team operates under the auspices of the New Jersey State Police and Office of Emergency Management.
Besides Hazsko and Zelekovic, another Elizabeth Fire Department member, Gregory Sadowski, who also is in the Coast Guard, is on standby, Bialas said.
The National Urban Search and Rescue Response System team operates under the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and organizes state and local emergency responders to assist with rescue missions across the country.
There are 28 task forces throughout the U.S. and anyone can be deployed to a disaster area.
This is the first time since the 9/11 attacks that all 28 task forces have been deployed at once, Bialas said.
The task force was originally supposed to deploy to San Antonio, but the roads there had become impassable.
The team was redirected to Katy instead, Christie said in a statement Sunday.
“There is the potential that their order gets updated and they get rerouted with Harvey turning towards Louisiana,” Bialas said.
He later added that he was unsure of how long Haszko and Zelekovic would be deployed.
“They won’t know until they reach the staging area and FEMA will disperse them throughout the state,” he said.
The local fire union is trying to put together a collection of personal items to send down to the region too.
“When we need them, we know they’re going be there for us,” Bialas said of the effort of all the task forces.