Fort Worth

One Year Later: Fort Worth Fire Battalion Chiefs Look Back at Winter Storm

A conversation with FWFD Battalion Chiefs Roberto 'Bobby' Fimbres and James McAmis

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One year ago, North Texas plunged into a deep freeze, and first responders were put to the test.

"This is unprecedented cold and freeze," Fort Worth Fire Department Battalion Chief Roberto 'Bobby' Fimbres recalled. "We grew up in Fort Worth and it's never been this cold for that long."

For 10 days, from February 14 through February 24, the FWFD wasn't just putting out fires.

"It was, man, this huge thing just happened. Oh, wait! Now this other huge thing," Fort Worth Fire Department Battalion Chief James McAmis remembered. "Sometimes things happen that are unprecedented like this and there's no way everyone can be prepared, right? So sometimes we just have to go with the flow and answer the calls."

"The problems were coming, so we had to figure out a way to think outside the box to fix all these problems," Fimbres said. "It was almost like four little disasters built-in, and it was just one piled up after another."

It started with power outages.

"We supplied generators to the homes that we could supply so that they could keep their oxygen running," McAmis said. "Because we had no idea at this time when the power was gonna come back. Is it gonna be a week? Is it gonna be a couple of days," Fibres asked. "We had no idea."

The FWFD was among those handing out water to those who had no access to fresh water, on top of doing regular firefighter duties.

"Obviously when you run into a burning building you get hot, you start sweating, and then when you come out... you take your coat off, now you're freezing," McAmis said. "So you go from those two extremes and that can definitely have an effect on you."

Some photographs, taken by the FWFD, show firefighters with ice on their helmets. "That's the sign of how extreme it was," McAmis said.

There was an uptick in house fires during last year's winter storm; 69 calls in 5-days, many of them related to the freeze.

"People were starting small fires to stay warm in an unapproved container inside their homes," Fimbres said. "And then you have burst pipes and everything else, and then you have a whole new set of problems that are coming along."

On average, the FWFD goes out on 11,000 to 12,000 calls a month.

"During this five-day span, we were close to 6,000 calls," Fimbres said. "So yes, we asked a lot of our personnel."

"They put the citizens of Fort Worth before their own family, and came out and responded to the calls, and helped," McAmis said.

McAmis said firefighters showed what is possible.

"That you can function on very little sleep," McAmis said laughing,

Both said they'd do it again. "If asked," Fibres said. "Yes."

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