Liberty County deputies prepare for next disaster with airboat training

Liberty County sheriff's deputies are undergoing airboat training this week.

To motorists driving along US 90 in Liberty on Monday, it might have seemed that an emergency operation was underway along the Trinity River, but that was not the case. Deputies from the sheriff’s offices in Liberty and Chambers counties were taking part in airboat training that they hope will prepare them for the next Harvey or Imelda, or one of the numerous flood events that regularly happen in Southeast Texas.

Five Liberty County deputies – Capt. Billy Knox, Sgts. Brett Audilet and Paul Young, and Deputies John Bennett and Jesse Slaughter – and Rick Davis with Chambers County Sheriff’s Office are taking the course offered by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The instructors are retired Texas Game Warden Will Plumas and Game Warden Randy Button.

During the one-week course, deputies will learn wet and dry launch and recovery, basic operations of the airboat, maintenance, and crew and passenger safety. In order to take the course, the Liberty County deputies first had to complete a basic boater safety course, all of which was funded through the Sheriff’s Office seizure fund.

This week’s training will enable the sheriff’s deputies to conduct search and rescue missions in areas that otherwise would be unreachable and enable them to assist residents during high-water flood events.

“This class is very hard to come by. Sheriff Bobby Rader had to sponsor a school just to get them to come,” said Knox. “This class will help us know our limitations as to what we can and cannot do in an airboat.”

Knox said it made sense to partner with Chambers County on the course as the neighboring counties face similar challenges with marshy terrain along the Trinity River basin.

“A lot of agencies in Southeast Texas have airboats and are putting their law enforcement officer through this program,” Knox said.

The Sheriff’s Office airboat came from a ReBuild Texas grant originally obtained by former Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves in 2019. The 20-foot-long, 550 HP engine, eight-passenger airboat was delivered to Liberty County in January 2020. With no one in the commissioner’s precinct able to operate the boat, commissioners court transferred to the sheriff’s office with the stipulation that personnel would have to undergo training.

“With the addition of the airboat, the sheriff’s office gained another tool for our Search and Rescue,” Knox said. “This was just a first step.”

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