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Write on METRO

Oct 17
Master Mechanic Rescues Harvey Victims

MechanicRescuesHarveyVictims.jpg

This is a guest article by media specialist Monica Russo in the Press Office. 

 When Carlester Chatmon reported to work the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Field Service Center in east Houston, little did he know what the next several days would have in store for him.

"I knew a big storm was bearing down on the city. I'm a Houstonian – born and raised here – so I'm used to working in storms and floods," said Chatmon as he reflected on his experience. "But, in all my years of living here, I've never seen so much water."

During his nine-year career at the agency, he's worn many hats.

"I've worked on police cars and METROLift vans. I've towed 40-foot buses from all parts of this city," he recalled.

His experience driving large trucks and his extensive knowledge of Houston-area streets would prove to be invaluable skills because on this weekend, Chatmon was assigned to operate METRO's high-water rescue vehicle, a BMY 6x6 5-Ton Military Cargo Truck. METRO had purchased this after the 2016 Tax Day Floods.

The first call came in on Sunday around 2 a.m. Soon, requests for high-water rescues began to pour in, and first responders needed all the resources they could get.

Assigned to join three HPD officers, Chatmon and his new partners began a non-stop effort to rescue people and move essential supplies.

"People would cry, laugh, clap when they saw us arrive. We rescued a family with a one-month-old baby from a flooded home. I remember an elderly lady who hugged one of the police officers so tight and didn't want to let go," said Chatmon.

He and his navigator, HPD Officer Marcus Betancourt, had to carefully maneuver through flooded roads. Because floodwaters would often hide curbs and medians, it was hard to tell where a roadway began and ended. Everyday objects like electrical boxes and fire hydrants became underwater hazards. The hidden dangers also included a swamp of submerged cars.

At one point, Chatmon recalled, water entered the cab of the truck, reaching his ankles.

"We were in the Meyerland area. The flooding was unbelievable. This truck was made for high water. So, when water entered the cab, it was an uneasy feeling. I thought a lot about my family. I know they were worried for me."

But the group endured. Despite obstacles and lack of sleep, they pressed on -- prepared to answer the next call.

By the end, the team had trekked all over the Houston region. They rescued families near FM-1960, transported doctors and nurses from Pearland to the Texas Medical Center. They shuttled cases of blood and medical supplies to waiting helicopters. Chatmon helped the team find a route that would allow them to move dozens of police officers to a facility which housed high-water vehicles in need of drivers.

"We really were a team. Those guys are my family now," said Chatmon with a huge smile.

HPD Sergeant Timothy Zaragoza said he was vital to the operation.

"Everywhere you looked, there was so much devastation. At times, we were overwhelmed. Working with Carl made things so much easier. He knew this city like the back of his hand. We couldn't have achieved as much as we did without him."

In fact, the HPD officers, affectionally nick-named the truck "Carla" in honor of its driver.

The master mechanic turned unexpectant first responder says he still dreams about those long nights during Harvey.

"There was a lot of joy in helping people. It was beautiful. I loved it and I'd do it again if I had to," he said.

 

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