Saturday, April 10, 1999

Rescue team did tough job

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was the sort of disaster Steve Ashbrock had envisioned for Hamilton County's first-ever search and rescue team, but it still didn't prepare him for the nightmare of devastation.

        “I've never seen anything like this. It's amazing,” said Mr. Ashbrock, commissioner of the Hamilton County Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (USAR), as he gazed over the tornado-damaged homes across from Sycamore High School in the Montgomery Woods subdivision.

        “This type of damage is overwhelming to any fire department in the county,” Mr. Ashbrock said.

        USAR is the county's first attempt to combine countywide fire, rescue and emergency-medical agencies for unusual and deadly rescues or large-scale disasters.

        More than 40 USAR members were at the Cornell Road scene about 45 minutes after the destruction of the Montgomery Woods subdivision was broadcast to fire and police departments. With the help of specially trained search and cadaver dogs, USAR went house to house, checking, helping the injured and looking for bodies.

        They found two — Mr. and Mrs. Lee Cook, who died when their home on Cornell was hit.

        After searching homes the USAR members, volunteers from county fire departments, marked the homes — or rubble — with spray paint signifying that the structure had been checked, residents located, and whether there was a gas leak or other hazard.

        But Dr. Edward Otten, USAR member and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati, had perhaps the toughest task.

        Dr. Otten, who is also chief medical officer for the National Disaster Medical System, had to tell the Cooks' son they were dead.

        “That's the worst job. When you have to tell someone that both their parents are dead,” said Dr. Otten.

        Montgomery Assistant Fire Chief Tom Wolf praised USAR, which Montgomery fire officials called to assist the more than 150 firefighters, police, emergency and disaster officials summoned to tornado touchdown sites in northern Hamilton County.

        “USAR was phenomenal. What a valuable resource,” Assistant Chief Wolf said. “Within 45 minutes, they had started to set up here.”

        It was the second and clearly the largest test for USAR, which is one of only 27 urban search and rescue teams established across the country. The task force was formed in 1997, but did not become operational until earlier this year.

        In January USAR helped save a Price Hill man who was buried in tons of mud when the trench he was working in collapsed.

        USAR members made their final sweep through the Montgomery Woods subdivision and at 1:15 p.m. declared the area all clear of injured or dead.


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Driver got upside-down trip on freeway median
Photographer encounters death, devastation
House is a cheap price to pay for life
Community safe, serene and vulnerable
In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive
Survivors eager to swap stories
Two died in field; two died on roads
Adjusters quick to arrive at disaster
To file a claim
Dealing with storm aftermath
Don't rush repairs after storm
Tips to picking a contractor
Kids need help to overcome grief, fears
Talking to kids
Phones, power out until Sunday
- Rescue team did tough job
Storm could spur support for tax levy
Storms' memories linger after damage is repaired
Mobilization was instant
Tornado tales
TV/radio stations had reason to boast
Volunteers grab chain saws, mops as workers untangle wires
At least 7 businesses destroyed
911 calls reveal confusion, fear