“Everybody is somebody,” said Haiti native and special guest speaker Sam Jean, translating a Haitian proverb for the more than 500 in attendance at the California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2) Recognition Ceremony on Feb. 11, held at the Cecil R. Gehr Fire Combat Training Center for the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD). Screenwriter and attorney Jean, who serves as a board member of the Yele Haiti Foundation founded by his brother, musician Wyclef Jean, delivered an eloquent message on behalf of the people of Haiti. “I want to thank you for treating the Haitian people like people,” he said.
The event began with the traditional posting of the colors by the LACoFD Color Guard. CA-TF2 members marched in behind to the sounds from East L.A.’s Garfield High School Marching Band and a loud roar of applause from the crowd. Photos John DeLeon/LACoFD
LACoFD Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman addressed CA-TF2 teams, thanking them for their hard work in Haiti.
Governor Schwarzenegger shared his own perspective on the actions of rescuers. “We all know that there are many types of heroes,” he said. “But there is nothing like the heroes that risk their lives to save other lives. That is a true action hero, and that is what you are.”
Task Force members, their families and their deployment support team colleagues were all honored by the presence of Governor Arnold Swarzenegger and county supervisors Molina, Knabe, Yaroslavsky and Antonovich, who carved time out of their busy schedules to be there in person to say thanks.
The ceremony, hosted by LACoFD Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, was held to honor the accomplishments of two CA-TF2 teams deployed to Haiti just 2 days following Haiti’s catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12. Proudly, our personnel saved nine lives and assisted in saving two others.
The event began with the traditional posting of the colors by the LACoFD Color Guard. CA-TF2 members marched in behind to the sounds from East L.A.’s Garfield High School Marching Band and a loud roar of applause from the crowd.
“While you were over there in Haiti doing your job,” said Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte, “there was not a firefighter in the stations who was not glued to the television to watch was you were doing.”
Task Force Leader Battalion Chief Terry DeJournett spoke of the difficulty of telling a U.S. Embassy staff member who was worried over the fate of his family staying in the collapsed Caribe Hotel that CA-TF2 search dogs did not find any signs of life there. “That was the first time that I had ever had to do that,” he said in an emotional recollection.
The tragic events in Haiti were tempered by a deep sense of pride for the exhausting work performed by the team. “There were a total of five rescues in 1 day, 5 days after the earthquake,” he said, adding that team members also worked to set up tents at the local hospital in Port-au-Prince so that doctors could discontinue doing operations out in the open air. DeJournett concluded by saying that the Haiti response was likely “the most significant deployment that we will ever experience.”
Governor Schwarzenegger shared his own perspective on their actions. “We all know that there are many types of heroes,” he said. “But there is nothing like the heroes that risk their lives to save other lives. That is a true action hero, and that is what you are.”
Board Chair Gloria Molina also applauded CA-TF2 for their “tremendous effort in Haiti,” and USAID Operations Division Chief James Fleming pointed out that CA-TF2 was activated just 30 minutes after the quake and one of only two internationally-designated teams from America to respond.
Chief Freeman applauded the team’s efforts on the world stage and welcomed them home. “Our teams deployed performed flawlessly,” Freeman said. “You were the helping hand of America.” Each Task Force and Deployment Support Team member was presented with an official certificate of recognition from the Department and a pin featuring the Haitian flag, plus a special challenge coin from the governor, who graciously stayed for the entire program in order to participate in the presentations and photos.
Since returning, members of the Task Force have been invited by local communities and news networks to talk about their experiences. Battalion Chief Devin Trone spoke at the 40th Annual City of Norwalk Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast regarding his experiences on the ground in Haiti. Canine Handler Jasmine Segura and her canine partner “Cadillac” shared their experiences with Alta Vista Elementary School students in Redondo Beach. Canine Handler Bill Monihan and his canine partner “Hunter” were invited on KNBC and KTLA news programs to discuss their rescue of three teenage girls, and Gary Durian and his canine partner “Baxter” were featured on the Fox Network’s “Good Day LA” show on the day after their return. Four-legged or two, they are all international heroes!
California Task Force 2 is a specially-trained and equipped Urban Search and Rescue Task Force consisting of Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and paramedics rescue specialists, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, canine search dogs and handlers, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists and logistics specialists. This unique technical rescue team responds with 55,000 lbs. of prepackaged search and rescue tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations at domestic and international disasters, both natural and man-made.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is one of the largest emergency service agencies in the world, providing fire protection and life safety services to more than 3.8 million residents and commercial business customers in the County’s 2,305-square-mile area, and around the globe when needed. For more information, visit the Department’s Web site at www.fire.lacounty.gov
or contact Kristina Hajjar, director of communications at (323) 881-6109.