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L.A. Fire's search and rescue heads to Haiti

January 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A Los Angeles County urban search and rescue team departed to Haiti to hunt for and rescue survivors.California Task Force 2 left for Haiti in a military aircraft Wednesday night.

Trucks were lined up and loaded and members of the L.A. County Fire Department's specially trained urban search-and-rescue team.

"As we speak, we're waiting for our transport that's going to be provided by the Department of Defense sometime later this afternoon," said Capt. Billy Monahan of the L.A. County Fire Department.

The 72-member team, known as California Task Force 2, is regarded as one of the best disaster relief rescue teams in the world. They received a request from federal officials Tuesday and immediately packed up about 55,000 pounds of medical supplies and rescue gear. The team includes doctors, paramedics, engineers and search dogs, trained to detect live, human scents in disaster situations.

"He uses his nose to pinpoint an out-of-sight victim, and they're trained to detect someone who is not visible. As a rescue person, if I see you or part of your body sticking out, I don't need a dog. The dog pinpoints in collapsed buildings exactly where we need to start digging," explained Capt. Sam Padilla of the L.A. County Fire Department.

The team is prepared for difficult conditions and the on-going danger in Haiti.

"In my opinion, the aftershock are an issue. The building is not having the same codes as the building codes we do here. That's going to be a concern for our rescuers," said Monahan.

This highly trained team spent time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina searching for victims, so they're certainly used to dealing with harsh conditions. They're one of only two national teams designated to help out in these international aid operations.