SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - February 21, 2018 marks one year since the destructive flood in San Jose when the Coyote Creek flooded over its banks.
Some longtime first responders call it the worst San Jose disaster they've ever covered. Now several changes are in place so the city is better prepared for the next water emergency.
When residents in the Rock Springs neighborhood of San Jose woke up on February 21, 2017 to find themselves surrounded by a mess of sewage and creek water, specially-trained firefighters went to work.
"None of us really anticipated that that neighborhood was going to flood," said San Jose Firefighter Paulo Brito. "When we got there and saw that, we went 'Oh my God.'
Brito was one of 32 Urban Search and Rescue Team members that waded in to help.
He likens it to walking through a swimming pool while wearing heavy equipment and says firefighters first walked next to the boats to allow more room for trapped residents.
"Towards the end, you'll see we were in the boats because the water was getting deeper. Basically with our life vests on, it started to float us so we could no longer keep our feet on the bottom," said Brito.
They carried out the elderly and escorted the young and old to safety.
"In my 20 year’s experience, this was by far the worst flooding or water rescue disaster I've had to deal with in City of San Jose," said San Jose Fire Captain Jeff Riley.
Riley says not only did they max out their two metal boats at three times their capacity, he had to split up his search and rescue team to help rescue at least 10 people stranded near the Los Lagos Golf Course a few miles away.
"We were peeling other teams away to go to people hanging onto trees in the middle of the river while there was flooding going on in the neighborhood. So we needed more people," said Captain Riley.
He says San Jose Fire was also limited in their equipment.
When he responded to Hurricane Harvey in Houston a few months later, he experienced how high-stance vehicles can drive through up to 8 feet of water.
Not only is San Jose now getting a high-stance vehicle, his team will soon be getting six more metal boats, three more inflatable ones, along with two jet ski-type watercraft.
"This was a big event us and we're trying our best to prepare for the next one," said Riley.
Because of the flood, not only is the San Jose Fire Department getting 15 new vehicles and boats, every San Jose Firefighter will get new training and have access to specialized helmets and flotation devices just in case of another water disaster.