The Fog of Disaster: Into Haiti With Two Tampa Fire USAR Members

As the four-engine C-130s began spooling up their massive 4,591-hp power plants, spinning six-bladed props that sliced through the unusually chilly morning air in South Florida, the 80-member Florida Task Force 2 had already secured their semi-trailers...


As the four-engine C-130s began spooling up their massive 4,591-hp power plants, spinning six-bladed props that sliced through the unusually chilly morning air in South Florida, the 80-member Florida Task Force 2 had already secured their semi-trailers full of specialized rescue equipment aboard...


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WHAT DID YOU SEE UPON ARRIVAL?

Roger: The people had a look in their eyes — what are we going to do? That isn't to say we didn't fall in love with the people from Haiti. They are wonderful, they are resilient, they did everything in their power before we got there to rescue people. They should be complimented for their efforts.

We are lucky here in the states — during Katrina or other events, if you need help or equipment you pick up a telephone and it is on the road. We've all seen it on the news — 50 trucks of ice, we can get it. We didn't have any of that. There was no running water; it was collected in cisterns on the roofs. They have open sewers that drain into gutters. Small children brush the debris away. I never did see a support vehicle such as electric company truck till five or six days into it. And then it looked like something that we would have salvaged years ago and gotten rid of. It is going to take a long time for them to completely rebuild.

WHICH RESCUE EFFORT HAD THE MOST PROFOUND EFFECT ON YOU?

Brian: We went to a collapsed school that had 60–100 people in it. It was a three- or four-story school that had completely collapsed. We found three people alive. We were able to get two of them out. The third had a crushing head injury that was not survivable. The first survivor was a female in her mid 20s and her arm was entrapped. After excavating, the doctors had to crawl into a void and amputate her arm. This procedure was remarkable…the rescue specialists, doctors and medical people risked a lot by going into the debris to get her out. That rescue took five hours to complete. A couple days later, we heard she survived the incident and went home.

The second victim was about 20 feet away from the first. The ironic thing was we were able to dig her out with mere hand tools. She was able to move a little bit and after much digging, she was able to come out and dust herself off. She said "thank you" to everyone, got in the bed of a pickup truck, and went home with her family.

There are also simple things. That same night, some of the neighbors down the block said they had some missing family members. As we were going down the street, you just saw bedding in the middle of the street with 30 to 40 people who were afraid to go back into the structures. We searched one structure and there was no one. We came out and a gentleman approached us. He was probably in his 30s, and he kept talking about his brother. We went to his residence; we think his brother might have died in the structure. But all he wanted was for us to stand there while he went in to get some personal belongings. He was afraid to go in the building, feared it would collapse and no one would know he was there. All we did was stand there with a flashlight. He came out with his few little things, gave us a hug and thanked us. All he wanted in the world was someone to make sure he was safe.

WHAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND, ROGER?

Roger: I was involved with the rescue at the Caribbean Market. It was a five-story supermarket, the largest in Haiti. I've heard the term "fog of war" before and there is a fog of disaster from all the information that we get. Family members in the states would call Miami to tell them of a relative who sent a text message that they were trapped somewhere. We would respond to find no survivors. People walking down the street would tell us of trapped survivors they had heard about. In many cases, much of this information was invalid.