Saturday, January 30, 2010


The Los Angeles County Fire Department's finest—Urban Search and Rescue, USAID-2—returned home last night to the county’s Tactical Support Facility in Pacoima, escorted by a helicopter and flashing lights from fire trucks.

As the buses pulled into the facility, my heart thudded in my chest. My son was on that bus and as a mother, my life was wrapped up in his safety. The team was greeted by hundreds of family members waving American flags and chanting USA-USA! As they stepped off the buses, they appeared to be in high spirits, but I was sure the glowing smiles belied the unimaginable sights and tragedies they’d experienced while in Haiti.

Television cameramen vied for spots to get the best shots. Children waved “Welcome Home” banners, balloons floated through the air as men embraced their families and some wept openly. I stood in line behind my daughter-in-law and three grandchildren to get my hugs. They were worth waiting for.

When we returned to my son’s home, he uploaded his videos and pictures of rescues that he’d taken during his two-week tour of duty. One particular scene broke my heart. It was filmed inside the hole where one poor woman had lain for four days; both hands held crushed and trapped by collapsed blocks of concrete and steel. We got to see, close up, the remarkable expertise of the rescuers as they brainstormed their way to save this woman; cutting, sawing, and prying their way to free her hands. It took over four hours of concentration, raw nerve, and perseverance to accomplish this one feat. I was griped with fear and awe as I watched them put their lives in danger. They crawled into the impossibly constricted hole to give the woman an IV, and then begin the delicate task of extracting her. When she was free, she began to sing a Haitian song, and the bystanders joined in with her. It was magic, my son said, and it made all the work worthwhile.

All together they pulled nine people from a sure death, with some rescues taking as long as twenty hours for just one survivor. Then came the heart-wrenching part…learning that a rescued girl later succumbed from her injuries.

To see those huge slabs of concrete they had to cut through made it clear why it took so long to get to the victims. Initially a structural engineer, a member of the team, had to check the integrity of the building before they could enter. Then, like diamond cutters, with precision and exactness, they had to work for hours just to remove one layer (one floor level at a time) of concrete and steel.

When the searching was called to a halt, the team now had time for humanitarian work, which my son said helped offset the pain and suffering they’d seen. They were told that an American AID worker, living in Haiti, had lost his wife and two children in a collapsed hotel. The team was able to find the deceased, and bring out his loved ones, which gave him the much needed closure to this horrible ordeal.

There were several instances where the team was called upon to do this; a Canadian who’d lost his daughter, and a Brazilian who lost his wife. Excavation equipment was brought in and the team was able to find the deceased; so the family was able to take their loved ones back to their homeland for a proper burial.

The team went about the devastation, delivering food and water where needed. They set up tents for medical teams that were operating out in the open air. They also donated several thousand dollars worth of tools and equipment to the destroyed Haitian Fire Department, who had lost almost everything in the earthquake.

My son sat with his children, that night, and told them about the poverty and ill health that the Haitians have to endure, and asked them to pray for the people of that country. He also told them how he saw children making kites from trash bags and sticks. When they got the kites in the air, they were smiling and laughing as they ran, surely forgetting for awhile, as only children can do, that they had no home to go to, and probably no dinner waiting for them.

After seeing all the poverty and devastation in my son’s videos and pictures, I thought how lucky we were to have been born in the U.S. But what if I’d been born in Haiti? By our accident of birth we have no right to feel superior to anyone, do we? Because, when you think about it, this could have happened to any of us? Our place of birth was determined by where our ancestors came from, where they were born, and so on down the line. Had our ancestors been slaves who wanted freedom and escaped to end it, we might have been pulling a plastic kite behind us. Maybe a silent prayer of thanks to our ancestors might be called for.

As my son tucked his precious girls into bed that night, we all said a prayer of thanks for his safe return.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


See video:

It’s been a week now, and my heart is aching for the pain and suffering those poor souls are going through in Haiti. I can’t imagine how it will end. How can you fix something that’s been broken for so many years? True, the infrastructure, small though it was, can somehow improve with the right people handling it. But as we watch and wait, there seems to be no Haitian taking charge. Maybe it’s being done somewhere, somehow, but they need to put down the pencils and paper and start talking to their people.

We can only do so much for countries that are in such disrepair. We send our best and brightest, trained to save lives; doctors and nurses flock to help the injured. But what can they do without the supplies that a well-staffed hospital can offer. They bring in supplies, only to be turned back by a crowded and run-down airport. They come in ships, but cannot get the supplies over land because of the bad roads and thousands of people who want to commandeer the trucks and drive them away.

My son signed on for this. He took the training that is required for a First Response Search and Rescue. Just like so many others that are dispersed around the capital trying to find people who are still alive and buried under the rubble. They want to succeed, they dearly want to bring someone out and hear the clapping and crying of their loved ones. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. One young girl the the team rescued was so badly injured that she died shortly after they pulled her out from under the tons of debris. But still they go on.

However, it seems like some reporters love to stir the pot, love to get people agitated. It makes for such a great story. Maybe they’ll get a Pulitzer for their reporting. They look into the camera, put on an “I feel your pain” look and then say something so asinine that it voids the whole effort of those brave men who are trying so hard to save people. I’ve seen this on CNN and Fox News and I want to strangle someone.

They must search the crowd until they find someone who is in the depths of despair; someone who is so angry that he can’t wait to spew it into the microphone. I don’t blame the Haitians. They are suffering unimaginable things. But I blame the reporters, who hold the mic under the person’s chin, and then ask: “How do you feel about the help taking so long to arrive?”

What the hell type of question is that? Does this reporter know what it takes to deploy thousands of men, equipment from all over the world and get them to Haiti? Has he even bothered to look into it? I doubt it.

The man answers that he doesn’t understand why it is taking so long to get help, so long to rescue all the people that are trapped under buildings, that he is hungry and his family is hurt. Just what the reporter wanted to hear as he nods sympathetically while standing there in his Tommy Bahamas shirt and shorts, leather penny loafers, full stomach and wallet, then looks into the camera and says: “There you have it folks, the true feelings of the Haitians. Why is it taking so long?”

I’ll tell you why. My son and hundreds of other rescuers are spending ten to eighteen hours on one person who they think might still be alive. They put their life in harm’s way as they straddle hunks of timber and concrete perilously close to crumbling. They work in 24 hour shifts, not knowing if another quake could drop them all below. They do it because they were trained to, because they care, because they want to save a life, even if it takes 24 hours, which some single rescues have.

They are split into teams around the city. They are working while the reporter is asleep in his comfy little quarters. They are bending over piles of rubble, hacking away with equipment to break away barriers that have fallen on the victims while the reporter waves a mic under their noses. But the rescuers pay little attention to the reporters. They are there to save lives.

The rescuers flew to Haiti on cargo planes, packed to the rafters with their equipment. Cold, no toilets, no air conditioning. Wonder how the reporter traveled? Could it be in the Network jet? Would they have had snacks of caviar and crackers? The Search and Rescue teams are getting MREs(meals-ready-to-eat).

If anyone reading this would like to take a stab at answering some of these questions, please feel free to do so.

To keep current on what our guys are doing over there, click on:

Friday, January 15, 2010


Yesterday and today have been long, worrisome days for me. My son,a captain on the L.A. County Fire Department, and a member of the Urban Search and Rescue Strike Team, along with 70 other members, flew out of March AFB on their way to Haiti. I am horrified by the streaming videos coming from the T.V., and I watch closely as searchers walk along the precarious concrete structures, broken blocks and unfathomable debris that covers men, women and children awaiting help. I pray for them, as I pray for my son and all the rescue personnel who put their lives at risk to help their fellow man.

In 2001, after the attack on the twin towers, my son and a few of his firefirer buddies, flew to New York to visit the stations that were so devastated by loss of life. It was something he felt he had to do. It was soon after the attack and my heart was heavy until he returned, not knowing if the enemy had any other plans in motion.

Then in 2004, he was sent to Sri Lanka after the tsunami, but somehow I wasn't as terrified then as I am now. He told me when he returned of the devastation, the resilience of the poor people who'd lost everything. One old man and his grandson were sitting on the beach, heating water in an old can for tea. When my son walked up to him, the old man embraced him, and offered him a cup of tea; this from a man who had lost everything...but his kind heart. It broke my son's heart. Even though the man talked, and my son could not understand his language, the common thread was love and hope.

But this time I feel different. I have a dreading. I can't explain why this is. I do know that I'll be so relieved and grateful when his fourteen days are up. I will pray that all the planes will have the fuel to lift off and bring all the teams home safely to the U.S.