10 U.S. search and rescue teams assisting with Haiti earthquake

At least 10 Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces in the United States have been activated to assist the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Here is an update from the web site of California Task Force 5, which is organized by the Orange County Fire Authority.

CATF5 Haiti Update 1/14, 8:15pm

USAR CATF5 worked throughout the day today at March Air Reserve Base. The Task Force focused on some logistical challenges throughout the afternoon. CATF5 maintains a state of operational readiness and is prepared to respond.

The Task Force is currently staged while waiting for transportation to Haiti. Once that transportation becomes available, the Task Force will load it’s cache and vehicles while looking forward to assisting those in need.

CATF5 plans to rest this evening while remaining optimistic that their transportation will soon arrive.

Haiti Update for Thursday January 14, 2010 (Day #1)

Last night around 8:30, The California Task Force 5 Urban Search and Rescue team was activated to assist with the ongoing rescue efforts in the wake of the devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. CATF-5 will join nine other US&R Task Forces in Haiti. The other teams deployed to this incident are: Virginia TF-1 (Fairfax), Virginia TF-2 (Virginia Beach), California TF-2 (LA County), California TF-7 (Sacramento), Florida TF-1 (Miami-Dade), Florida TF-2 (Miami), New York TF-1, Ohio TF-1, and Texas TF-1. This is an unprecedented international deployment of resources, in that many of the teams listed above are FEMA teams typically limited to incidents within the United States.

CA TF-5 is a Type 1 team consisting of 75 members from OCFA, Anaheim Fire, Orange City Fire, Santa Ana Fire, Montebello Fire, and Chino Valley Fire Protection District. The team is comprised of highly trained and skilled responders from a variety of disciplines.

At this time, CA TF-5 is at March Air Force Base awaiting military transport to Haiti. As can be expected, there is a backlog of aircraft on the ground at the available landing strips in Haiti.

As I’m sure youuve seen on the news, this is a huge disaster with reports of tens of thousands killed, and millions left homeless. The task forces that have landed and begun rescue work have already reported several live rescues. Please keep our responders from CA TF5, the other task forces, the many volunteers, and the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers during these challenging times.

Keith Richter
Fire Chief
Orange County Fire Authority


Photos of the Orange County task force being deployed taken by the Orange County Register are HERE.

Air Force photos of task forces and equipment being deployed are HERE.

Composition of an Urban Search and Rescue Task Force

When the two Urban Search and Rescue Task forces from Los Angeles County Fire Department and Fairfax County, Virginia were dispatched to aid the victims of the Haiti earthquake, I did not know much about how they were organized. But after some research, mostly at the FEMA web site, I found out more about them.

Currently, there are 28 task forces across the country. They are sponsored by FEMA and are staffed and equipped to respond to any type of emergency incident where search and rescue is required. Each task force is equipped with the necessary tools and equipment and is supposed to be able to begin traveling within 6 hours.

The locations of the 25 Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces that existed in 1996.
The locations of the 25 Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces that existed in 1996.

FEMA’s standard operating procedure calls for them to send the three closest task forces, and more if necessary. As far we we can tell, they did not follow this procedure for the Haiti earthquake, sending only two task forces, as of January 14 anyway, that were not the closest.

(UPDATE @ 7:38 p.m. Jan. 14; we found out that the Miami Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, South Florida Task Force 2, departed just after noon today, headed toward Haiti.)

Each task force has two 31-person teams, four canines, and a comprehensive equipment cache. The idea is that the 31-person teams would rotate, each working for about 12 hours a day. They are supposed to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours, and should be able to stay on the incident for 10 days.

FEMA claims that the Task forces operate within the Incident Command System, but they also say that the personnel on the teams work in one of six areas:

1. Management

Composition:          Task Force Leader, Safety Officer, Planning, Search Manager, Rescue Manager, Logistics, Medical Manager

Functions:                 Provides overall management and coordination of task force operations.

2. Search

Composition:            Canine Specialists, Search Canines, Technical Search Specialists

Functions:                  Utilizes canines and technical/electronic search to locate trapped victims.

3. Rescue

Composition:            Rescue Specialists organized into four squads with leader and five specialists, and includes Heavy Rigging Specialists.

Functions:                 Performs extrication of trapped victims. Skilled in cutting, shoring, lifting, and breaching steel and reinforced concrete.

4. Medical

Composition:            Physicians and Medical Specialists at the paramedic or equivalent level.

Functions:                 Provides pre-hospital and emergency care for task force members and crush syndrome/confined space medicine for rescued victims.

5. Planning

Composition:            Structural Engineers, Hazardous Materials Specialists, Technical Information Specialists.

Functions:                 Provides support to the overall search and rescue mission to include: planning, hazards evaluation, structural integrity assessments, and technical documentation.

6. Logistics

Composition:            Logisticians, Communications Specialists, and Support Specialists.

Functions:                 Provides support to the overall search and rescue mission to include: logistical, communications, mobilization and demobilization, and transportation.

Early season fires in Arizona

It is an early start to the fire season in the Tucson area, or, the 2009 fire season actually never ended. Here is an excerpt from an article at azstarnet.com:

Fires in winter mean we need a mind-set like summer

That’s the message from area forest managers, who say warm, dry conditions in our wild lands make it necessary to adopt fire-season behavior early this year.
“Here we are in the middle of winter and we’re still seeing active fire, so it’s important for people to … take personal responsibility and not be the ignition source,” said Heidi Schewel, a spokeswoman for Coronado National Forest.
Kristy Lund, fire manager for Saguaro National Park and the Coronado’s Santa Catalina District, said, “Fire behavior is nothing like it should be at this time of the year.”

Fires are spreading rapidly and burning through the night, she said.

Five fires have started in Southern Arizona’s Coronado National Forest this year, including two still burning in the Nogales Ranger District.

Coronado officials say the 800-acre Black Peak Fire, 10 miles south of Arivaca, is 40 percent contained and not expected to grow much bigger. Acreage on that fire was reduced when officials flew its perimeter Wednesday.
Crews began attacking the nearby Apache Fire on Wednesday. That 300-acre fire is 20 percent contained, and most of its growth came from backfires set to keep it from spreading.

Pete Schwab, deputy fire manager for the Coronado, said early fires tax the Forest Service’s ability to respond. Seasonal firefighters can’t be hired until April, and no aircraft are on standby.

About 100 firefighters from several agencies along with one rented helicopter were used to fight the two most recent fires.

All five fires are believed to be human-caused and are under investigation. The four fires in the Nogales district occurred along smuggling routes, and the Five Fire near Molino Basin started in an area often used by target shooters.

Thanks Dick

Mount Rushmore July 4th fireworks canceled due to fire danger

The annual 4th of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore, which in the past has started fires and littered the ground with tons of fireworks debris, is being cancelled this year. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested lands within the Memorial’s boundary, but it is adjacent to the Black Hills National Forest’s Black Elk Wilderness, in which most of the trees have been recently killed by pine beetles.

The National Park Service is saying the fireworks are being cancelled because of the risk of fire caused by the fireworks in the beetle-killed fuels. Navnit Singh, chief of interpretation and education at the memorial, said Wednesday:

The condition of the forest is such that, unlike any other year before, there is a greater risk of a wildfire growing into a catastrophic fire, because there’s more dead forest close to the park than any other previous year.

I was the Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other parks during the first four years that fireworks were used on Independence Day at the Memorial. I developed a plan that would require that the weather and fuel conditions be within certain parameters before the fireworks could be used. We continued to refine the plan each year, settling on Probably of Ignition as one of the primary factors on the go/no-go checklist, especially after the fireworks started about 10 fires one year. All of the fires were small and were suppressed by the 60-80 firefighters we had positioned in the forest around the sculpture. One year the fireworks were cancelled because of the fire danger.

Mount Rushmore fireworks embers hitting ground
The Mount Rushmore Society conveniently has this photo on their web site, showing the Mount Rushmore fireworks with burning embers hitting the ground. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

In my humble opinion, igniting fireworks over and around Mount Rushmore is no way to treat the memorial, the sculpture, and the natural resources around the Memorial. The fireworks are disrespectful to the significance of the Memorial, they leave millions of pieces of debris that can never be picked up, they start fires, and tie up firefighting resources during a busy period of the fire season.

El Nino to continue into the early summer

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has issued an updated El Niño Advisory, predicting that it will continue through June, 2010. Here is an excerpt:

For the contiguous United States, potential El Niño impacts include above-average precipitation for the southern tier of the country, with below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. Below-average snowfall and above-average temperatures are most likely across the northern tier of states (excluding New England), while below-average temperatures are favored for the south-central and southeastern states.

Thanks Dick