Fire crews were quick to act in storm rescue

A fire truck slowly makes its way through the flood waters on Lovers Lane during the recent storm.

Recent storms left locals huddled in their homes, but the Hollister Fire Department braved the rain to rescue residents from rising waters.

Recent rainfall caused chaos in the Lovers Lane area of the county. Earlier this month, county inspection teams discovered a Pacheco Creek levee breach northeast of the bridge on Lovers Lane. According to the Office of Emergency Services, the breach is located on private property.

The county recently ratified a declaration of local emergency, which caused Gov. Jerry Brown to proclaim a State of Emergency for the county on Jan. 24.

Damages to roads and bridges are expected to cost millions, according to the office of emergency services.

Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo said his department had the responsibility of the whole region to attend to when it came to emergency calls.

“When the (first) call came out, it came out as a public service assistance for water in somebody’s house,” he said. “When the troops got out there, they realized it was flooding from the banks of the creek out there by San Felipe Road and Lovers Lane, not knowing the levee had broken. That was about 1:33 in the morning.”

Multiple calls started coming in for evacuation and swift water rescue after that, he said.

The department deployed one engine to make an assessment of what resources were needed. Once the engine arrived, the department realized they needed to do a quick evacuation on the spot, Martin Del Campo said. After requesting assistance from local law enforcement and CalFire, the department set up an incident command post near the flooded area. It also activated an evacuation center at the Veterans’ Memorial Building, which was staffed with Red Cross and county employees.

“As I drove by, people were on the rooftops of cars with flashlights and cell phones lit up so we could identify them and pull them out of the water,” Martin Del Campo said.

A San Jose task force brought a boat with eight personnel to assist incident command and evacuate people by boat. The San Benito County Sheriff Search and Rescue organization were utilized as well. Search and rescue is an organization comprised of volunteers who pay for their own training and use their own vehicles to provide quick and immediate action.

Martin Del Campo described what happened after someone was rescued from the flooded area.

“We’d rescue and send them by way of county transit to take a bus to the Vets’ building to get warm, get something to eat, have somewhere to stay,” he said.

He described the difficulty of rescuing those stranded in the flood area.

“When we get an incident like this that’s not just somebody’s single address, that’s more manageable compared to what we had with multiple residents and not knowing who’s at what house,” Martin Del Campo said. “We still have to make a search of the area not knowing if they’re home or not.”

Martin Del Campo said he wanted to relay a sense of preparedness to the community.

“It would be paramount for them to sign up with the website CodeRED, apply their cellphone number on it. So when we do a CodeRED or reverse 911, it goes straight to the people who need the information.”

CodeRED is an emergency notification service that allows emergency officials to notify residents and businesses by cell phone and text messaging.

Office of Emergency Services Secretary Dixie Zamzow said the service is area specific.

“If your cell phone is connected and Lovers Lane flooded, you’d get a text,” Zamzow said.

Locals can download the application on iOS and Android mobile devices. They can also sign up at www.san-benito.ca.us/county-departments/oes.

“If we can have it go straight to the cell phone, have these folks get that info as soon as possible, they’ll know in English and Spanish what’s coming at them,” Martin Del Campo said. “The fear of the unknown is probably worse than the actual situation.”

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