Within hours of last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID) reached out to highly skilled teams of union firefighters to help rescue survivors.
USAID works with many fire departments nationwide through preexisting partnerships, but according to Dan Schmidt, public affairs officer for the Fairfax County Fire Department, Fairfax, Va., and Los Angleles County have the only teams in the U.S. certified by the United Nations in light and heavy recovery operations.
The Fairfax firefighters belong to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2068. LA County task force firefighters belong to IAFF Local 1014.
Fairfax County sent two teams to Haiti. The “heavy” team has 72 human members and 6 rescue dogs. About 80 percent of team members are firefighters. Paramedics, doctors, structural engineers, heavy rigging experts, and dog handlers are also represented.The team carries enough supplies to sustain itself in the field for two weeks.
The heavy team was alerted by USAID on the evening of January 12, just hours after the earthquake, and shipped out the next morning. A second 42-member “medium” team deployed on January 14.
Fairfax made its first rescue on January 14, when they helped free an Estonian guard from the rubble of UN Headquarters. Rescuers had to “de-layer” nearly three floors of concrete to reach the man, who was pinned under a chair. They passed him a saw. The guard cut himself free and walked out on his own.
Two days ago, Fairfax team members worked with French and Turkish rescuers to save a Haitian woman. The rescue, which took several hours, involved cameras, listening devices, jackhammers, and saws.
There are several U.S. search and rescue teams operating in Haiti under the direction of USAID; as of Friday, these teams had rescued a total of 43 people.
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