Los Angeles urban rescue team to deploy to Haiti

Firefighters and search dogs trained to find live humans pass a truckload of equipment as they head for a briefing as members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Task Force 2 Search and Rescue team prepare leave for Haiti to help in that country's devastating earthquake, at the department's facility at Whiteman Air Park in Los Angeles Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

January 13, 2010 6:34:30 PM PST
A California team of urban search-and-rescue specialists received orders Wednesday to deploy to earthquake-stricken Haiti, where thousands are feared dead or trapped in rubble.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department's 72-member team and thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies headed immediately to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County.

Fire Inspector Matt Levesque said the team was awaiting the arrival of a military transport aircraft from another base, and departure was expected shortly after 9 p.m. PST. Flight time was estimated at six hours.

Time is critical for trapped victims as dehydration, crush injuries, fractures and pressure on the respiratory system take a toll.

Medical experts say that, in particular, crush injuries common in earthquakes release toxins from injured muscle tissue into general circulation, and they recommend treatment even before a person is extricated.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said California was ready to offer any further assistance that is needed.

"On behalf of all Californians, we send our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims," he said in a statement.

California Task Force 2, organized by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, began getting ready shortly after the magnitude-7.0 quake devastated impoverished Haiti on Tuesday.

The team includes firefighters, paramedics, emergency room doctors, search dogs and handlers, heavy equipment specialists and engineers trained in rescues from collapsed structures.

They bring with them enough food and water to be self-sustaining for two weeks, Levesque said.

"They don't want to be concerned with getting food and water or impacting whatever food and water is at the rescue site," he said.

How long it takes to get to work will depend on how controlled the situation is and the results of reconnaissance to determine which areas are feasible to attempt rescues, Levesque said.

The task force has responded to many domestic and international disasters, including the 1994 Northridge earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.

The California task force and a similar team of urban rescue specialists from Fairfax County, Va., were activated by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which also dispatched its disaster assistance response team.