EXCLUSIVE: Heroic Off-Road Shop Transforms into Relief and Rescue Center
August 30, 2017
The tale of the Houston floods left by Hurricane Harvey has played out in shocking detail on 3P Offroad‘s social media pages. The Tomball, Texas-based shop, in as little as four days, has transformed from a 4×4 service center into the only lifeline available for some in desperate need for help.
On Friday, Aug. 25, the four-year-old shop posted a Facebook photo of a Polaris Ranger UTV, along with the message, “We are ready for Hurricane Harvey!!” But, as shop owner Josh Herzing admitted to THE SHOP magazine on Wednesday, there’s no way he could have imagined the heroic role that 3P Offroad would serve during the disaster. Herzing owns the shop with two other partners-his brother Travis Herzing, and best friend Russell Coker.
Two days later, on Aug. 27, things had gotten decidedly more urgent. The shop posted a photo of its 5-ton military truck driving in 5-foot-deep flood waters with the message, “3P will be offering high water rescues in the Cypress/Tomball area. If you are affected and need immediate assistance please call the shop line at 281-782-4177. Please share to spread the word.”
That post has since been shared 6,700 times on Facebook and initiated hundreds of harrowing comments from people pleading for help. One person commented, “Please someone help us get out!!!! 911 and the Coast Guard won’t get us and our cats out unless the water is up to our chests.”
Another commenter said: “Our neighbors need help being rescued from Wimbledon Champions Estates. She has 6 little dogs and they are one of the last ones in the neighborhood. Please help them get out. They have little food and no power and water is rising!!”
As the shop’s mission continued to grow, so did its social media outreach. The company shared photos and videos from the shop’s frontline rescue teams, as well as its expanding call for additional supplies, like hygiene products, blankets, cots and towels, and even aluminum motorboats, flashlights and batteries.
Most importantly, 3P Offroad’s social media communication helped mobilize approximately 2,000 volunteers, including highly skilled emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and ex-military personnel with swift-water training-turning 3P Offroad’s 3,500-square-foot shop into a fully operational relief and rescue center.
“At any given time, there’s 250 people at the shop. Whether they’re coming in or going out, whether they’re resting or sleeping, or even setting up their barbecue and cooking food-we basically have a disaster relief center right now,” Herzing told THE SHOP magazine. “We’ve got first aid people here. And, we’re actually working with several government agencies and the State of Texas. We’ve got FEMA out here with us, we have the Texas Rangers with us, we have the National Guard, the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety), everybody. We’re pretty much working with them all.
“Volunteers who have seen our social media stuff, and seen reports about us on the local news, they’ve just kept showing up.”
Herzing estimates 3P Offroad’s force of volunteers had already rescued more than 400 people by Wednesday afternoon. The team’s efforts started in Cypress, Texas-a city located 30 miles northwest of Houston along US-290-and have since spread 140 miles eastward to Port Arthur, Texas, which came under duress Wednesday when the storm returned to shore. The team also has rescuers farther east in Beaumont and Orange, Texas, as well as in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is 200 miles from 3P Offroad. More are stationed in Rockport and El Campo, Texas.
For Herzing, it’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly 3P Offroad became central to Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts. What’s certain is Texas’ lieutenant governor is now a big fan of the shop.
“You’re what makes Texas great,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Travis Herzing in a video-interview the lieutenant governor posted to Facebook. Patrick had a chance-meeting with the 3P Offroad owners on Monday at a grocery store in Cypress before he posted the video.
“We were helping people on Sunday by taking them in our 5-ton truck and dropping them off at a grocery store. That’s when we met the lieutenant governor,” Josh Herzing said. “He said our shop is located in a disaster relief area and published our telephone numbers and contact information. Five hours later, we returned to the shop and there’s 100 people outside. We just kind of ran with it from there.”
Patrick and his bodyguard even hitched a ride with the 3P Offroad guys to tour the devastation.
“He was with us for several hours. He even jumped out and helped people with us. He’s a great guy,” Herzing said.
Before meeting the lieutenant governor, the 3P Offroad rescue team had difficulty gaining access to certain flooded areas.
“I think law enforcement thought we would hurt ourselves because it was dangerous conditions. We quickly proved ourselves-”helping them so many times that I think they realized we were capable of a lot more than what they thought,” Herzing said. “It’s to the point now that every time we go do a rescue, we have law enforcement escorting us there. We also have a letter from the governor of Texas saying that we have permission to go into any body of water in Texas.”
The 5-Ton Force
The 3P Offroad pricipals did not originally envision the 5-ton military vehicle getting them involved in rescue missions. The shop bought the truck from a military auction two years ago for $8,000.
“We didn’t know what we’d do with it. We didn’t think we’d even win the bid,” Herzing said.
The shop restored and improved the truck, but didn’t realize its full potential until spring 2016.
“There was some flooding around here last year when we realized how useful the 5-ton was for helping people. So, we kept it,” he said.
The truck is capable of driving through depths of water nearing five feet, making it especially useful during Hurricane Harvey rescues.
“We now have a total of seven 5-tons going around the area and saving people,” Herzing said. “We have two customer friends that have 5-tons. And then three more came from an organization that runs a big off-road event called Rednecks With Paychecks. More people have seen what we were doing with our 5-ton and said that they’re going to come out and help with their own 5-ton truck.”
Though proven as a useful tool, 3P Offroad’s 5-ton truck has taken a lot of work and money to maintain in the past few days.
“Every time we go through deep water, the differentials have problems and they need flushing. Every time we do that, it costs about $1,200. We’ve probably already put $5,000 into it,” Herzing said.
The 3P Offroad team also utilizes other vehicles for its rescues, like UTVs, ATVs, lifted trucks and boats.
“We’ve had people drop by the shop and just leave their Jet Skis.” Herzing said. “We’ve had other people go and buy boats for thousands of dollars and return to our shop ready to go. People have been die-hard about helping.”
More Help Needed
Donations keep coming, but more boats and supplies are needed.
“We probably have 150 boats on the water right now. We need more aluminum boats, more motorized boats,” Herzing said.
Some rescue boats also need lighting to continue rescue efforts at night. Additionally, rescue crews and those taking refuge at the shop need water, food, gasoline, gas tanks and other supplies.
“I don’t know exactly what I need at any given moment because that seems to change every five minutes,” Herzing said. “We started out with 1,000 gallons of diesel gasoline here because we’re an off-road shop. That went down to 200 gallons, but we’ve had a few people deliver some gasoline here at the shop. We also have transfer tanks on all our trucks and have been filling up whenever we find a gas station that hasn’t run out of fuel.”
The 3P Offroad team launched a PayPal page to take donations to continue rescue and relief efforts. Those interested in helping 3P Offroad, according to the shop, can contribute to the cause by donating to [email protected] on PayPal.
Communication is King
Perhaps the biggest miracle for 3P Offroad during its search and rescue operation has been the development of an efficient communication system. The shop has a staff of four to six people at any given moment directing rescue worker tasks.
“We have one person talking to people who need help on Facebook. We have another person talking to people who need help on Instagram. Then we have someone communicating on a mobile app called Zello that works like a walkie talkie. Zello has been amazing and helped us keep in contact with our entire team,” Herzing said. “It’s all a crazy-efficient communication system we have here. Each team has its own code name and knows when and where we want them.”
The shop has also developed a way to mobilize its many volunteers.
“Initially, so many people from all around came down to Houston and wanted to help, but didn’t know how to get started,” Herzing said. “We got help from a buddy of mine with a military background. He and a few other guys with military backgrounds set it up here where volunteers get checked in and assigned to a task within 15 minutes. We document everything for safety reasons.”
Through all the heart-wrenching moments while saving flood victims, Herzing said his faith in humanity has been restored.
“I’m just 30 years old, but I recently had kind of lost my faith in humanity,” he admits. “But these last few days have been a huge eye-opener. It’s easy to get emotional about it. These people down here are losing everything, but then are trying to give everything back to help others. We’re saving kids, we’re saving people with cancer, people in wheelchairs, people with disabilities, and then dogs, cats, birds, snakes-anything.
“We saved a guy and he said he lost everything. He came up to the shop and he opened his wallet. He had like $120 and he tried to give it to us. We told him, ‘No thanks, we’re not taking your money,'” Herzing continues. “He then broke down and he’s like, ‘If you don’t take this money, we’re gonna have a problem. I need you to take this money. You guys saved me and I’ve got to do something for you.'”
Another notable highlight was when 3P Offroad rescue volunteers saved a woman who went into labor.
“We had a woman whose water broke when her house was flooding. We got her to the hospital,” Herzing said.
The 3P Offroad team has built new lifelong friendships with strangers in just a matter of days.
“The camaraderie right now is insane,” Herzing said. “I met a guy who came by my shop on Monday just to see if we needed help. I’ve spent every minute with this guy through today (Wednesday). Now he’s like my brother.
“These people we’ve just met, we’ve spent so much time together and we work so well together-it’s like a family now.”
Personal Issues Aside
Coincidentally, Herzing said he’s in the process of selling his home while closing on a new one.
“I was supposed close on my old house today and my new house tomorrow before the first of the month,” he said.
On Wednesday, the title company informed Herzing of some minor flooding at his new house and that an inspection would have to take place.
“The roof is leaking a little,” he said. “I’m just going to fix that myself.”
In the meantime, Herzing dropped his wife and two girls-ages 2 and 7-off at his mother-in-law’s house 15 minutes away.
“I’m going to try and get back there to check on my family this morning,” he said.
Herzing has barely had time to sleep, or even process the immensity of the situation in his hometown.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” Herzing told THE SHOP on Wednesday. “The day before, I got about an hour-and-a-half of sleep. This morning I napped for 30 minutes.
“You’ve got adrenaline, you’re standing in cold water for four days-you just have to keep on going.”
Life has changed in an instant, but Herzing, the owners of 3P Offroad and its big-hearted staff have pushed their business and lives aside to answer the call from those in need.
“Last week we were just rednecks who liked building trucks and side-by-sides,” Herzing said, “and today we’re just trying to help as many people as we can, with law enforcement by our side. Two weeks ago, they were yelling at us for riding the side-by-sides down the road or having too dark of window tint. And now they’re helping us, we’re helping them-some are sleeping in their vehicles in our parking lot.”