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Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2018 Vol. 65 No. 7

Texas Game Warden Search and Rescue

For over 120 years, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) Game Wardens have been the State's primary force for protecting Texas' natural resources. As fully commissioned State Peace Officers, game wardens not only enforce fishing, hunting, and water safety laws, but all other state laws as well. As part of their normal patrols, game wardens work mostly in rural areas around the state, including its numerous rivers, lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, often with limited backup or effective communications to other responding law enforcement agencies. Therefore, game wardens must be well trained and self-sufficient while conducting these patrols, as they routinely encounter and apprehend dangerous criminals, respond to crisis, and provide general public safety to the people of Texas.

As the state's primary marine enforcement component, game wardens historically have lead countless search and rescue operations on state waterways, and they continue this legacy today. To safely accomplish these vital missions, every game warden is trained in basic swift water awareness and officer water survival as a cadet at their training academy. These courses provide wardens with a basic level of water proficiency in both moving and static marine environments to not only test their abilities to rescue potential victims, but also themselves or their fellow wardens if necessary.

In 2012, the Law Enforcement Division began developing a part-time, dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR) team comprised of 60 specially trained, equipped and technically proficient game wardens whose sole purpose is to enhance the Division's response capabilities during major flooding events, natural or man-made disasters, lost or missing persons events and ultimately any operation where the Department would gain an advantage by having the team deployed. While on regular duty, these wardens patrol their assigned counties for the aforementioned enforcement responsibilities, but when disaster strikes, they are called upon for the most dangerous rescue missions.

More recently the TPWD Aviation Branch and the SAR Team have joined forces with the Texas Department of Public Safety's Aviation Branch to create the Division's first Helicopter Rescue Technician (HRT) Program. This unit's primary function is to conduct statewide, aerial search and rescue operations. Currently, the unit staffs four full-time pilots, three part-time Tactical Flight Officers (TFOs) and six hoist certified rescue swimmers. These aircrews train in the most adverse conditions, over rough terrain and water, to be able to effectively respond to any land or water based rescue operation when called upon.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Texas game wardens conducted hundreds of SAR operations, rescuing over 12,000 people from the affected areas. Of those recues, the SAR team, including HRT, conducted numerous swift water rescue and hoist operations, saving countless Texans' lives, and securing their role as a tier one rescue team for the state.

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