New York, NY -- Logistics managers and task force leaders shouted orders over the beeping of backing trucks and the roar of forklifts at the Jacob Javits Convention Center today, as all but one of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces packed up and headed for home.
FEMA Task Forces have been in New York since September 12, working hand-in-hand with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) to support search and rescue efforts at the World Trade Center complex. While FEMA will continue to provide technical assistance as requested, the city has determined that the need is declining for structural engineers, HAZMAT specialists, canine teams, search specialists, medics and rescue specialists that comprise the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces.
"We're honored to have had the opportunity to make a difference," said Tim England with Colorado Task Force-1. "It's hard to put a positive on something so awful, but the team came prepared to do what they are trained for."
Twenty of FEMA's 28 Task Forces were deployed to New York in the afermath of the tragedy, working in 12-hour shifts around the clock for up to seven days before being rotated out. As many as eight teams have been in New York at any one time. Five FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces were also deployed to Washington to help in search and rescue efforts at the Pentagon.
"I think we look forward to seeing our families and loved ones again, but I know I speak for everyone when I say we would stay as long as they asked us to," England said.
One FEMA Task Force will stay on to help with any heavy rescue needs FDNY might face. It is anticipated that this final team - California Task Force 4- will return home at the end of this week.
"It's overwhelming that we lost so many of our brothers," said Forrest Rowell, a Sacramento firefighter and rescue squad leader with California Task Force-7. "I just wish we could do more."
Stress counselors have been debriefing FEMA rescue workers as they prepare to head home, offering them guidance for handling their grief. If Oklahoma City is any indication, it is a process that will take years.
"This has been an event unlike any other," said Pete Bakersky, who has helped to run FEMA Urban Search and Rescue operations on nearly all of the deployments for the national Urban Search and Rescue system. "Many of us, myself included, lost close friends here so I mean it when I say we share in the sorrow. But I know that all of us want to thank New York for the warm welcome they've given us."
In the words of Joe Sorentino with Florida Task Force-2, "It's what made the job bearable."