Saturday, September 22, 2001

Team welcomed home from NYC


Elite crew responded to disaster

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — Even when Dave Pickering awoke in his own bed Friday morning, his wife, Liz, beside him and their kids nearby, it was hard for him to believe that he was home.

        Just hours before, the family drove into their Liberty Township neighborhood to fire trucks lining the street, a big welcome-home sign on their house, and neighbors holding lighted candles.

[photo] Task force members Dave Pickering and Micael Lotz II, who works with the Cincinnati Fire Division, at the air base.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It felt absolutely incredible,” said Mr. Pickering, a Colerain Township firefighter who had spent 10 days in New York City searching for survivors at the World Trade Center. “It was great to get home and finally see my family. I missed them so much.”

        Mr. Pickering, 39, was one of 17 local rescuers dispatched to New York. They were among 72 members of Ohio Task Force 1, one of 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search and rescue task forces capable of responding to massive structural collapses.

        A 14-year veteran of the Colerain department, Mr. Pickering braced himself: “But I was not prepared for all the peripheral things that I saw. There was just devastation for 10 to 20 blocks away. I was not prepared to see New York Fire Department fire trucks unrecognizably destroyed.”

        A will to find somebody, anybody, alive kept the Ohio rescuers going.

        “Emotionally, it has made me realize there is good in people,” Mr. Pickering said. “People rise to the occasion and do what has to be done and give their hearts to total strangers.”

        By Thursday, the Pickering kids were anxious to see their dad.

        Eight-year-old Ryan pranced around in a red fire helmet, while his sister, LeighAnn, 11, held red, white, and silver balloons. She clutched a handmade sign that said: “Our Dad, Our Hero.”

        The task force returned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton just before 9 p.m. It left New York at 6 a.m. Thursday.

        For more than two hours, family members waited outside a base hotel. Several held American flags.

        Stacey Thomas was there to greet her dad, Ed Thomas, a captain with the Green Township Fire Department and a task force member.

        “He called basically every morning to tell us he was all right,” Stacey said. “It's kind of exciting because he's on his way home.”

        Task force spokesman Scott Hall said the families had been briefed on dealing with the emotions their loved ones might have from the grim mission.

        “They've seen things that most of us could never imagine,” Mr. Hall said.

       



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