Urban Search and Rescue

~ The Cost of Search And Rescue ~

See that guy with the clipboard?  Yeah, the one looking harassed and concerned.  That’s My Captain.  The love of my life.  Usually I am the one that puts that look on his face.  But this picture was taken during his deployment, as Rescue Manager with Maryland Task Force 1, to New Jersey and New York for Hurricane Sandy.

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During this particular deployment, a few of the rescuers on his team suffered injuries.   It was easy to get injured at some of the places they went!

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And, in fact, at least one of the injured is still recovering…he has not been able to work at all since Hurricane Sandy.

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Fonzie is his name, and his story is in the post entitled Search and Rescue.  This is the sequel post!

If you can recall, Fonzie severely injured his foot and leg in that deployment.  This is a huge problem for a Search and Rescue dog.  They need to be nimble.  They need to be agile.  They need to be able to scramble, for heaven’s sake!  Otherwise they simply can’t do their job.  And their job plays a pivotal role in any search and rescue.

Why?  What is the big deal?  Why not just send in humans?

See this rubble pile at the Oklahoma City bombing?

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This is a nasty rubble pile.  This was one of the first major responses for FEMA’s newly created National Urban Search and Rescue system.  And My Captain was there.

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FEMA did not originally create the Task Forces to deal with terrorism related rescue.  They were, in fact, initially designed to respond to earthquakes and floods and hurricanes.  No one had envisioned ever needing to respond to terrorism here in the country.

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But respond they did….with their rescue dogs…because they knew they couldn’t easily send men and women up these piles fast enough or efficiently enough when looking for viable victims.

They sent the dogs because they knew that the weight of human bodies might shift the rubble pile, potentially further endangering a viable victim, not to mention injuring the rescuers.

They knew and respected the fact that humans don’t have a dog’s excellent ability to sniff out life……or death.   (Yes, there are dogs that are trained to smell cadavers.)  Those amazing snouts are the perfect rescuing tool….so dogs became essential in FEMA search and rescue efforts.

Fast forward to September 11th, 2001.  Here the Task Forces again used dogs…both live-find and cadaver trained.

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They were needed in the mess that was the Pentagon and also at Ground Zero.

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My Captain was deployed to the Pentagon as the Task Force Leader for Maryland’s team.

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There he is sporting a spanky, new safety vest as he gives the briefing for that day’s Pentagon rescue plan for Maryland’s Task Force.

The Search and Rescue Teams deployed to the Pentagon that day were greeted with an unholy mess and the daunting task of trying to find life in a still burning, jet-fuel puddled, fume laden, unstable mire of twisted steel and stone.

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And they had to do it not so much on a rubble pile mountain like at the Oklahoma City Bombing, but rather within more of a confined space kind of rubble pile.  Look at the column on the right…it doesn’t look too stable does it?  Because it is not.  It is very, Very, VERY dangerous.

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The dogs went in and began the search, while the Structural Engineers on the Task Force began designing the stabilization plan.

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And stabilize, they did!

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I’m not kidding when I call it an unholy mess.  But the dogs, the engineers,

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and rescuers wasted no time getting down to business.  If life was there, they were going to find it.

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Shoring up, sifting through, searching, searching, relentlessly searching……

Meanwhile up at Ground Zero, the challenge was a gigantic mountain of collapse and rubble rather than confined space collapse and rubble.  My Captain’s brother, a Lieutenant, was on that massive rubble pile with other parts of the Task Force.  (Do you think maybe My Captain’s parents are a tad proud? I sure would be if both of my sons were rescuers.)

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But back to the dogs, this Golden Retriever is at Ground Zero actually getting ‘shuttled’ between the stories high mountains of rubble.  These dogs could go where humans could not.  They worked incredibly long hours…. It was exhausting.

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Which brings us back to Fonzie.

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Fonzie is a trained ‘live-find’ rescue dog… his handler, Victoria, (who is also a firefighter, EMT, wife to the Frederick City Police Chief, and mommy) trained Fonzie to smell live victims and bark like the dickens at them…even if they are buried deep within  the rubble.

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They train and train and train, waiting for the next deployment.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, at the deployment to Hurricane Sandy, Fonzie got his foot stuck under a steel door.  As he thrashed about violently to get free, he severed important tissue and nerves in the toe.  He also managed to do damage to his rotator cuff, and other important parts of his leg.  He’s a mess, that pooch.

Understand that this is a dog who has been invested in heavily…HEAVILY…financially and temporally.   Oodles of time and money and training went into him..this is not a dog you just shrug off and say, “Next!” about.

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Victoria has had the daunting task of trying to rehab Fonzie to the point where he can work again.  He’s gone through intense physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, water therapy…you name it.

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And she is adamant that he wants to work. “Work = Happy” where Fonzie is concerned!  The dog wants to rescue!  Look at him.  It’s as if he’s saying, “All right!  All right!  Let me go already!  I can do this!  Let me WORK!”

But unfortunately, we just don’t know when that could happen.  He’s got a future full of more rehab, possibly more rather invasive surgery, and a lot of time before he can be back on a rubble pile.

And in this day and age, we certainly need him.

Heal fast, Fonzie!

Categories: Fire and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

~ Search and Rescue ~

I’m writing an update on our poor injured Fonzie, at the request of several readers. To remind you how this all started, I’m re-blogging the story!

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During Maryland Task Force One’s deployment to Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, several of the team were injured, among them My Captain.

Don’t worry, he’ll live to rescue another day.

But unfortunately, another task force team member who was injured more seriously, has a long road of recovery ahead of him.

His name is Fonzie.

Fonzie and his handler, Victoria, had a harrowing ride during the week of the storm.

Fonzie’s paw got stuck under a metal door, and he cut the tendon and flesh of one of his toes.  He bled all over the place, and it looks like he will lose his toe.

This is a big deal.  Fonzie is not just a ‘dog.’

He’s a true search and rescuer, with extensive training (to the tune of about $15,000!).  He relies on his paws…and all the toes therein…to climb through rubble piles where humans could…

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Categories: Fire and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

~ Search and Rescue ~

During Maryland Task Force One’s deployment to Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, several of the team were injured, among them My Captain.

Don’t worry, he’ll live to rescue another day.

But unfortunately, another task force team member who was injured more seriously, has a long road of recovery ahead of him.

His name is Fonzie.

Fonzie and his handler, Victoria, had a harrowing ride during the week of the storm.

Fonzie’s paw got stuck under a metal door, and he cut the tendon and flesh of one of his toes.  He bled all over the place, and it looks like he will lose his toe.

This is a big deal.  Fonzie is not just a ‘dog.’

He’s a true search and rescuer, with extensive training (to the tune of about $15,000!).  He relies on his paws…and all the toes therein…to climb through rubble piles where humans could not.

Like Pierce here (with his handler, and all around great guy, Mike).  A dog’s toes are of the utmost importance when they are in search mode.

Except here.  Here he doesn’t need his toes so much.

Fonzie’s primary job is to sniff out live victims.  When he smells the scent of life, he knows to start barking like there is no tomorrow and NOT stop until someone comes.

….yes, just like Lassie.

Victoria has been with Fonzie since he graduated search and rescue training.  He goes with her wherever she goes.

They are with each other 24/7.  He’s not a pet.  He’s not a co-worker.  He’s part of her life!

Victoria is a firefighter, an EMT, Fonzie’s handler,

a mommy,

and a wonderful wife (to hunk of a husband and Frederick Police Chief, Tom). But what amazes me (as if all of that is not enough…) is that throughout ALL of this, she maintains her true femininity (unlike your dear writer).

I’m serious.  I look at her face and I think, ‘Va Va Voom!’.  She’s got the classic female lines…fantastic eyes…kick ass smile…exudes confidence and strength.

I want to be her.  Somebody make that happen for God’s sake.

Back to the deployment to New York and New Jersey a couple of weeks ago…. Victoria says that while Fonzie did not have any saves this deployment, per se, he did absolutely make a difference.  How?  Apparently the victims would see Fonzie and get down on their knees and just bury their faces into his neck, sobbing with grief.  And Fonzie comforted as only a dog can.  She said Fonzie was the biggest balm I could possibly imagine.

I had never considered that.  But it certainly makes sense, doesn’t it?

To be a handler of a true Search and Rescue Canine requires an unbelievable amount of commitment and training.  Victoria’s life is so damn full, I wondered why she does it.

And then it struck me…  She does it for two reasons.  1) Because she has the very selfless heart of a hero, and 2.)

Love.

Categories: Fire and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

~ Coming Out of It Alive ~

My Captain came home today from his Hurricane Sandy deployment with Maryland Task Force One’s Urban Search and Rescue Team!

They helped many.  They experienced much.  They slept not at all.

And we missed him awfully.

We sat around the dinner table tonight for the first time in too long, and listened to the stories of his adventures….

….and his misadventures.

This little doozy happened last Wednesday, apparently.  “Merely a flesh wound!” was his explanation.   Sheepishly he told the tale of a slight miscalculation, broken auto-glass, and a resulting new scar.  Oh, and something about most likely being teased for the remainder of his career.

Because the fireservice, if nothing else, is compassionate and forgiving.

Look at Varmint’s and Critter’s faces as My Captain talks about his deployment.   These children have never known the kind of hardship he is describing having witnessed.   I hope they never do.

During the media blitzkrieg of Hurricane Sandy, one thing has been bothering me.   I’ve seen stories about destruction, about heartbreak, and about misery.   But what I haven’t seen covered in the media is that fact that this storm….the most enormous storm in history….resulted in relatively few deaths.  Even compared to Hurricane Katrina, which was by all accounts a much smaller meteorological phenomena.  Yes, the structural devastation was incomprehensible, but what was destroyed was exactly that….WHATs.  Not near as many WHOs.   Lives were saved.  Incredibly in one of the most densely populated areas in our country…we did not experience thousands of deaths.

Why aren’t we talking about that as well?

There are a ton of negative aspects of this storm, yes.  Lives were lost…horribly, tragically. But by far most everyone came out of this thing ALIVE.

Why aren’t we focusing on that, too?

I look around the table at the loves of my life and I ask myself, “If we lost everything, but still had each other, would it be enough?”

My husband, my children, my mother…..

YES.

Categories: Family, Fire and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

~ Maryland Task Force One ~

Here’s the thing.  I’m a writer.  Ipso Facto, I have boatloads of imagination and creativity.  Sure, I use obscure Latin phrases inappropriately to sound smarter than I really am, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have boatloads of imagination.  It certainly comes in handy when I’m writing heavily exaggerated to the point of absolute falsehood in order for it to be funny  stories.

But it doesn’t come in handy when I’m home alone waiting by the phone, or computer, or toilet, to hear from My Captain when he is deployed on a rescue mission.  My Captain is the Rescue Manager for Maryland Task Force One’s deployment to New York and New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy…aka Frankenstorm.  I haven’t seen him for a week.

This is nothing to military wives, I realize.  But guess what I ain’t, and never signed up for?

That’s right.  Being a military wife.

I just don’t have the patience or fortitude to live life constantly waiting.   I hate waiting.  I’m the one who stands in front of the microwave, yelling at her instant oatmeal, “HURRY!”    I sure as hell could never be a military wife.

So when My Captain gets deployed for Urban Search and Rescue…whether it be a collapse rescue as when he served at the Oklahoma City Bombing, or at the Pentagon, or in Mississippi during Katrina…I squirm.  I cringe.  I whine.

He left on Saturday for work at the firehouse at 5:30 am.  He worked a full shift, and the next day, his rescue team got activated ahead of the storm.

Then came Frankenstorm, unleashing all its Hell and Fury.  We had purchased a generator ahead of time because we always, ALWAYS lose power during big storms.

Guess what I never lost?

That’s right, power.  Why?  Because we bought the generator.

So listen, he’s gone from last Saturday on, right?  The storm comes.  I’m feverishly bailing out parts of the basement that are leaking.   I’m mitigating the flow of water around the mud pit.  I’m filling water bottles and putting candles everywhere in case I need them.  I’m eating everything in the fridge.

Not because I had to, more because it was, well, there.

My munchkins were at their Dad’s house, because it’s made of brick, not straw like mine.  (I obviously was never read The Three Little Pigs as a child. )

And that is when it kicked in.

My Awe Inspiring (to me, anyways) Imagination.

In all its glory.

I began imagining My Captain in all kinds of debacles.  I began to see him drowning in some flash flood in the middle of Long Island, calling my name ever so romantically before he went under for the last time.  I began to picture him being mauled by a pack of angry, starving looters in Queens.  And with his dying breath, he whispered, “Just tell her I loved her.”  I saw him getting run over  and trampled to death by his own men and women as they raced to the mess tent for their ration of hot Spam.

Really, I can’t be left alone for long periods of time.  It’s just not healthy for me, frankly.

Last night….Thursday!….I finally had a chance to talk to him in detail of where they were and how they were.

Turns out they are ok.  Tired.  Fairly battle-weary.  Frustrated.  But essentially, Ok.

He told me bits and pieces of his last few days, and I listened.  I heard of the mess and the challenge ahead of those states as they rebuild.  I heard of the strength and perseverance of the people there and the team that went with him.  I heard the fatigue in his voice.

And then he asked me how my week had been.

“I think some acorns dented my car!”  Was all I could come up with.  My life is, as ever, incredibly mundane.  If it were not for my verging-on-diagnosable-in-the-field-of-psychology imagination, I’m not sure I’d survive it.

Turns out he needed a little mundanity.  A little something to ground him.  Something to reset his compass.

Oh don’t worry, I didn’t inundate him.  I didn’t tell him about the cat puke I stepped in this afternoon, or the way I stapled one of the fourth grade bulletin boards in my son’s classroom so perfectly, or the infinitely interesting details of my shopping trip for Varmint’s friend, Alexis’, birthday gift.

I’m saving those little nuggets for when he comes home.

Categories: Fire and Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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