At 10:30 A.M. on Aug. 7, 1998, a terrorist bomb exploded outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. The blast destroyed the interior of the embassy and heavily damaged the surrounding buildings. The most severely damaged structure was the Ufundi Building, a mixed-use occupancy that...
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At 10:30 A.M. on Aug. 7, 1998, a terrorist bomb exploded outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. The blast destroyed the interior of the embassy and heavily damaged the surrounding buildings.
The most severely damaged structure was the Ufundi Building, a mixed-use occupancy that had hundreds of people in it at the time of the blast. The local fire department and EMS were quickly overwhelmed by the high number of casualties - over 5,000 killed or injured - and government officials appealed for help.
Through a request from the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, who was severely injured in the blast, the Fairfax County, VA, Fire and Rescue Department's search and rescue team - Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 (VA-TF1) - was notified by the U.S. Office Of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to begin deployment for this disaster.
We are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and OFDA to be assembled and ready for deployment within six hours. By 4 P.M., less than five hours after being notified, our entire team of 68 members was assembled at its point of departure, the Fairfax County Fire Training Academy. We were briefed by two representatives of OFDA, Pete Bradford and Peter Henderson, who accompanied us and were the primary contacts between our team and the U.S. government.
Arrival In Nairobi
After a 16-hour flight, we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 4 A.M. Nairobi time. Unlike past missions, only part of our tool cache arrived with us. Because of the anticipated lack of on-site transportation of our equipment, we brought our tractor-trailer and Service 2, a 12-foot truck. We deployed with more than 56,000 pounds of equipment, including additional food and water. This necessitated two C-5 Galaxy aircraft, which arrived five hours apart.
While some members unloaded the contents of the first plane onto flatbed trucks, an advance team was sent to the blast site. The advance team surveyed the area and met with members of the Israeli National Rescue Team who had arrived at the site 10 hours earlier. We were then transported via bus to a hotel, where we were assigned rooms and dropped off our personal gear.
The advance team gave a briefing: The Israelis were focusing on the Ufundi Building, located directly behind the embassy. This was a five-story building with a two-story penthouse. It had sustained substantial damage, resulting in a pancake collapse. The Israeli commander said his team would not need any assistance from us at that time.
During the briefing, the advance team identified where our base of operation and tool cache would be set up - next to the embassy inside a secure area fenced off by U.S. Marines. We were told that, for security reasons, we were always to walk in groups. After the meeting, we walked the half mile to the site where our equipment waited. Upon our arrival, every member of the task force was needed to meet initial requirements:
- Setup of base operations.
- Search and reconnaissance activities.
- Setup of equipment cache.
- Rescue operations.
After the setup of the base of operations, the task force leader, Fairfax County Battalion Chief Michael Tamillow, began to prepare for 24-hour operations. Half the team was sent back to the hotel to eat and rest for a short period; we had already been operating for more than 24 hours with little rest. Those members returned to the site at 9:30 P.M. At that time, the task force was split into red and blue teams. The red team worked from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. and was relived by the blue team for the second 12-hour shift. The team managers reported to the site a half hour before the rest of the team to exchange information. Rescue squads were relieved at their individual work sites. This allowed for almost continuous operations with very little down time.
At The Scene
Members who had been deployed to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 remarked about the similarities of the two disasters. Debris still covered much of the street, which the Kenyan rescue workers were clearing. All buildings surrounding the embassy sustained severe damage.