Before Monday morning, Braden and Kimberlie Dando had never heard of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Today, they say they owe their lives to the FWC officers who have been deployed to the Houston area to help rescue flood victims.
“If they didn’t show up I don’t what we would have done because we did not have a way to get out. I just want to thank them for what they did,” Braden, 25, said during a telephone interview from his mother-in-law’s house in Highlands, Texas.
The Dandos say their home in Dayton is gone, covered by the floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey that have devastated so many homes and lives in the Houston area.
“At first it was just another storm in Texas. It was just another rainstorm,” Kimberlie, 26, recalled. “Where we live we didn’t get the winds and the rapid rainfall like everyone else did. So, from my point of view, while everybody on social media is freaking out, I’m sitting here saying come on guys this is just another rainstorm. We’re Texans. We’re prepared for this. We can get through this.”
But that strong Texan-pride turned to concern when water started coming through the walls of their first story apartment.
The Dandos two boys–Paxton, 3, who is autistic, and Nixon, 15 months old–were also inside the apartment. Their parents concern grew as the flood waters began to cover Nixon’s crib.
“Slowly, but surely, the water on our land started to rise and before we knew it was knee-deep and then it got into our home and by time we had to evacuate it was chest-deep,” said Kimberlie.
She called her mother looking for help. Her mother’s friend had a truck. The friend would drive to Dayton to try to help.
But the water kept rising. Knowing help was on the way the Dandos decided to leave the apartment. Their boys were terrified.
“We had to swim with our kids,” Kimberlie recalled. “We literally had to drag our 3-year-old, while he was screaming, out of the house.”
The water was cold and the rain, driven by the strong winds, felt like needles hitting the skin.
“I’m thinking in my head, I can’t make it. My kids lives depend on me and I can’t move my legs,” said Kimberlie.
By time the the mother’s friend arrived in her truck, the road to the house was impassable. Fortunately, the friend saw a group of men, and they had boats.
It just so happens those men were officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and they were in Texas to rescue flood victims.
She told the officers that a family needed help. The FWC officers sprang into action.
Kimberlie and Braden saw the FWC boats coming towards them.
“I was getting closer and closer. They were getting closer and closer,” she said.
When she thought she could not go any farther she heard a voice say “give me the baby.”
She looked up and saw an FWC officer reaching down to her.
“I don’t even know how to describe the feeling,” Kimberlie said, her voice breaking with emotion. “You go from absolutely terrified not knowing if your child is going to be swept away by floodwaters, to feeling just instantly safe like everything is going to be finally okay.”
After rescuing the family, the officers went back to the apartment to save the family’s dogs.
“Seeing those officers is the only thing that kept me going,” Kimberlie said.
She remembers one of the officers trying to comfort her.
“I was shaking so hard that he put his hand on my shoulder and he just gripped my shoulder as tight as he could, just as an unspoken ‘I’m here’ type of thing.”
Kimberlie and Braden say they will forever be indebted to the FWC officers who the Dandos credit with saving their lives. While they don’t know their names, they will never forget their faces.
The officers are among 145 FWC staff members who were deployed to Texas earlier week by Gov. Rick Scott to help rescue flood victims.
“I would put my life on the line to save those men,” Kimberlie said. ”The only thing I know how to say is my kids are alive because of you. Thank you.”