Sunday, September 16, 2001

Tristate rescuers assist N.Y. effort

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — Seventeen firefighters and a dog handler from Hamilton County's search and rescue team are part of an elite team using periscope-like cameras and other specialized tools to search for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.

        Their role is critical because only members of these special teams, called Urban Search and Rescue task forces and coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are being sent into the voids where people may be trapped. Volunteers without official authorization are no longer working in the rubble.

        The firefighters are from the departments of Cincinnati, Madeira-Indian Hill and Colerain, Green, Anderson and Sycamore townships.

        Some use dogs, cameras and audio equipment to identify promising areas. Others then enter the pockets of open space using specialized digging and drilling tools.

Hope remains

        “A lot of times, these voids are small at the top, but they open up. They've found rooms, parking garages, stairwells,” said Kevin McMullen, a Cincinnati firefighter whose job is to back up the searchers with 60,000 pounds of equipment.

        The team hasn't given up hope of finding people alive.

        Mr. McMullen is a member of Ohio Task Force 1, composed of about 130 firefighters and dog handlers from around the state. Of that number, 62 are in New York this week.

        Other participants from Hamilton County are firefighters Josh Blum and Trace Lawless of Sycamore Township; Ed Thomas of Green Township; Greg Morris and Chris Hilberg of Madeira-Indian Hill; Mike Rusin and Dave Pickering of Colerain Township, Tom Riemar and Steve Ober of Anderson Township; and Mike Lotz, Mike Zimmerman, Jim Barrow, Grant Light, Mike Cayse, Michael Benedic and Doug Reidel of Cincinnati.

        Also on the team is civilian dog handler Terri Boyette.

        The United States has 28 such task forces. Their members are primarily firefighters from city departments who receive training through FEMA to locate and extract victims from major disaster sites. Some of the training has been led by veterans of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

        Eight of the task forces nationwide are camped at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, working 12-hour shifts in the ruins of the towers.

        The Ohio task force members were called to duty at 11 a.m. Tuesday. They left Wright Patterson Air Force Base in buses at 5:30 p.m. and started working at the scene on Wednesday.

"No way this was real'

        Mr. McMullen's first impression of the devastation: “It was a Hollywood set. There was no way this was real.”

        On Saturday afternoon, he was still awake after working from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a small section of the former World Trade Center tower 2. He has seldom slept since arriving and went without any rest the first two days. The greatest emotion comes when the team makes the bus ride from the Javits center to the site, said Mr. Rusin, 41.

        “The citizens cheer and hold up signs saying, "We love you,' and all this,” said Mr. Rusin. “I just hope we can live up to half of their expectations.”

        The Ohio team members will be in New York for at least another five days. Then, their duty will be extended or they will be replaced by other state task forces. The system is effective because the nationwide rescue teams are more removed from the tragedy than the New York firefighters, Mr. Rusin said.

       To donate cash to the relief effort, go online.


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