Alto Weekly Online Edition
Sept. 13, 2001, 12:05 p.m.
Awaiting the word
Menlo Park's urban rescue team stands by
by Pam Sturner
For the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's urban search-and-rescue
team, Tuesday morning began with a phone call most of its members
will probably never forget.
As California awoke to the attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon, 62 of the team's 200 members trained in collapsed-building
rescue received orders to prepare for a mission to the East Coast.
By Tuesday afternoon, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials
had deployed 12 of the nation's 28 urban rescue teams to the disaster
scenes, including three from the Los Angeles, Sacramento and Riverside
fire departments. Task Force 3, the search-and-rescue team drawn
from fire departments in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, remained
next in line throughout the week.
Chief Miles Julihn of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District said
the team was prepared for a 10-day stint and would carry its own
food and water, as well as medical supplies and specialized equipment
such as fiber-optic cameras and highly sensitive microphones for
searching closed spaces.
John Warren, a battalion chief with the San Mateo Fire Department,
anticipated a grueling tour that would draw on the team's entire
physical and emotional training. "We're doing what we normally do;
it's the magnitude that's different," he said.
"This is exactly the scenario we've trained for: a mass casualty
of 50,000," said Daniel Schainholz, a doctor from San Francisco
with the state's Disaster Medical Assistance Team also awaiting
deployment instructions at the fire station.
While confident of DMAT's procedures and training, he doubted whether
anyone could be emotionally prepared for the conditions at the scene.
"What happens after we hit the ground? We'll see," he said.
According to Julihn, some of the men who were on call Tuesday also
participated in rescue efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing in
1995, while others were facing their first disaster assignment.
The Rev. Mike Ryan, a chaplain for public safety agencies in San
Mateo and Santa Clara counties, said lessons learned from the Oklahoma
City bombing have changed the way rescuers are taught to handle
the stress associated with their work. A major difference in New
York and Washington will be the absence of daily debriefings, which
Ryan said contributed to the incidence of post-traumatic stress
disorder among rescue workers in Oklahoma City.
Instead, their counterparts today will depend on peers for support
in the field and receive a two-hour debriefing by a specially trained
psychologist on their return.
As of press time the Menlo Park search-and-rescue team remained
E-mail Pam Sturner at firstname.lastname@example.org