By Aaron Blevins, 11/01/2012
LAFD assists in Superstorm Sandy relief efforts
As the East Coast manages the fallout of Hurricane Sandy, some of Los Angeles County’s finest are already on hand, helping residents as they attempt to regain a sense of normalcy following the massive storm.
At least three current or former members of the Los Angeles Fire Department have been deployed: Chief Jack Weise, of Battalion 12; retired assistant chief Dean Cathey; and Capt. Craig White, of the Urban Search and Rescue Team.
LAFD officials could not offer specifics on the work they are doing or where. However, Capt. Jamie Moore said Weise is a part of operations, Cathey is a liaison officer and White is a logistics section chief. He said Weise and Cathey were sent on Oct. 28, and White was arrived on Oct. 29.
FEMA, which is overseeing the relief operations, did not respond to a request for information.
While three city firefighters are on the East Coast, most of the Urban Search and Rescue Team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department was still waiting to be deployed as of deadline. Only one member, Battalion Chief Larry Collins, has been sent.
“They’re doing some slight training right now, and we’re waiting to be deployed,” Capt. Thomas Richards said.
He said the training is being conducted at a facility in northern L.A. County, and that the team, which consists of 74 members, would need to be prepared to leave within four hours of being activated or requested. Richards the team was making sure they were up to date on their shots, checking their bags and supplies, and doing some last-minute training.
He said each member must have three or four bags packed and ready to go, and the amount of equipment the team would take, such as robots and sounding and visual equipment, is substantial. The team also has dogs.
“It’s a half a warehouse to get into that plane,” Richards added. “They have to be self-sustaining while they’re out there for a minimum of seventy-two hours.”
FEMA decides who is deployed to a national emergency and when. Richards said the agency picks emergency personnel teams on a rotational basis.
“You can’t deplete too much of a certain area,” he added.
Richards said the team is made up of firefighters with various skills who receive specialized training in urban search and rescue. He said the team, if deployed, could be useful in multiple ways.
“They can help with whatever needs to be helped with out there,” Richards said. “Everybody can do a lot of different things on the team.”
He said team members have practiced for this type of event, and they have undergone confined space training, while also working with “rescue systems” and “raising and lowering systems.”
“We may not have a lot of flooding so to speak, but we are extensively trained in it,” Richards added.
It would certainly not be the first time for the Urban Search and Rescue Team to disaster areas. Members responded to Japan and New Zealand in the spring of 2011 after the tsunami, and they also went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Richards said.
He said FEMA has such teams all over the country, and departments must opt-in if they want to participate.
“It’s something you want to do as a department,” Richards said. “It’s our job to help. That’s something we wanted to do. Every department has the option, but not everybody has the resources.”
FEMA does offer some incentives to departments that join, and if deployed, FEMA pays for the cost incurred as a result of the team being activated.
“It’s something we’re very proud of,” Richards said. “To be a part of these teams, it’s a good thing. I think it’s part of their duty.”
On a similar note, the California National Guard on Monday sent military transport aircraft that carried two helicopters and two pararescue teams to Charlotte, N.C. The guard also sent a Boeing C17, two C130 aircraft and two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
As many as 83 personnel, all trained in medical aid and search and rescue, were to be stationed near the affected areas for a quick response.
Additionally, the California Emergency Management Agency has been working with the California Utilities Emergency Association to send utility crews and equipment to the East Coast.
Officials with the Fire Department, New York, suggested that any donations be sent to the Red Cross by calling (800)RED-CROSS or visiting www.redcross.org.