AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the president of the Austin Firefighters Association gave out his personal cell phone number last week during a live interview on KXAN News Today, he had no idea just how many people would reach out.
Battalion Chief Bob Nicks told people to give him a call if they needed help. He promised an off-duty firefighter would try to come to pick them up in a truck, and get them to a warm shelter.
As soon as the interview ended, the calls started coming in.
“By the time I got to work I had a queue of 30 or 40 calls,” Nicks said. “I got over 400 calls that day.”
Nicks said the first came from a couple in their 70s without food, heat, or water for three days. The pipes above them had just burst.
“Water is raining down on them,” he said. “That’s a life and death situation.”
Later, a 97-year-old woman called in a similar situation. She too lacked heat, food, and water and was stuck at the top of an icy hill in Westlake.
Nicks sent in an off-duty firefighter and his girlfriend in their Subaru to help.
“They went to the top of this mountain, walked this lady down this treacherous walkway, grabbed her cats, turned off her electricity and heat, and got her back to her daughter so that she could survive,” Nicks said.
Nicks said many of the people who called had already tried 911, but were unable to get through.
In a statement to KXAN, an Austin Police Department spokesperson said, “911 saw a dramatic increase in calls last week some callers had to wait on hold until an operator was available to answer the call. The 911 operators answered every call received unless the caller disconnected.”
Nicks said he never imagined so many people would need help.
“I really got a good sense of how bad it was,” he said. “That’s when we opened up our warming center at the union hall, we had 40 beds.”
Nicks estimates the volunteer team likely saved around 100 people. He said even now he’s still getting calls from people needing safe drinking water.
“The greatest thing I saw was the community, organizations, and volunteers coming together. It’s incredible, and it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life, actually.”