Tools and training: How many times have you heard those words uttered by your training officers in your own organization? We can all remember our own experienced leaders in our department shouting at us constantly about carrying our hand tools and using them properly, not just to prop open a door either. As firefighters, we also train in our various specialties: rescue, ventilation, fire suppression, extrication, and so on. We all have become excited by the newest tool, gadget, or upgrade. But in Haiti, all the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue Urban Search and Rescue Team had for the first few days of the earthquake response were trusty hand tools: the pry bar, the halligan, the sledgehammer, the pickhead ax, and the flathead ax.
On January 12, 2010, at approximately 4:53 p.m. EST, Haiti's ground shook for the first time in more than 240 years with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. What followed over the next hours, days, and weeks can be described as predictable and miraculous. Shortly after the earthquake, New York Task Force 1 (NY-TF1) became part of a multinational response that combed the piles of rubble searching for any signs of life. The 82-member team included two structural specialists whose responsibility it was to evaluate building stability. In previous deployments in the United States, we were accustomed to dealing with a well-defined building code. The building construction we encountered in Haiti was unlike anything you might find here. Haiti’s lack of a stringent building code allowed many of the country’s buildings to collapse.
New york task force 1 (ny-TF1) received an activation order on January 13, 2010, to prepare its cache to respond to Haiti. An 80-member type 1 heavy rescue team was rostered throughout the night, and members reported on January 14. There are 19 specialty positions filled by members from the Fire Department of New York, the New York Police Department, and EMS. Our activation orders stated that NY-TF1 would support USAID/OFDA activities in Haiti. This deployment was unusual because NY-TF1 is not an international task force within the FEMA system. California Task Force 2 and Virginia Task Force 1 are the only international task forces in the Urban Search and Rescue System. Both teams were activated immediately and were on the ground working in Haiti. The magnitude of the event required a tremendous amount of resources, and the United States would send four additional teams with the two international teams.
Virginia Task Force 2 (VA-TF2) was activated to the Haiti earthquake on January 13, 2010. We were mobilizing as members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue program, on interagency agreement with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Our members prepared for an unprecedented international mission.
When the earth buckled and the island nation of Haiti suffered an unprecedented catastrophe on January 12, 2010, locating survivors deeply entombed beneath the rubble of collapsed structures became a primary consideration. Nowhere was the need for USAR capabilities more urgent than in Haiti, where 150 deeply entombed survivors were eventually rescued by USAR teams from the United States and other nations.