Boone County search and rescue team nearly deployed to Haiti

Thursday, January 14, 2010 | 7:37 p.m. CST; updated 7:44 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 14, 2010

COLUMBIA — Members of Missouri Task Force One narrowly missed being deployed to Haiti on Wednesday to help find and rescue victims of Tuesday’s earthquake.

The task force, which specializes in urban search and rescue and is a division of the Boone County Fire Protection District, was notified of a possible deployment via an e-mail from the U.S. State Department at around 9 p.m., Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp said. Task force leader Doug Westhoff responded to the e-mail about  30 minutes later by telephone, but the State Department “had already moved on” down the list, Blomenkamp said.

The communication process was unusual, he said. Normally, notification of deployments come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and are sent to a number of Fire District staff in several different forms.

Two of the United States’ 28 urban search and rescue task forces were deployed immediately to Haiti, Blomenkamp said. Those were Virginia Team One and California Team Two. The two teams are designated for international work. Missouri Task Force One is not typically deployed in such situations, but it was among the next six considered for deployment.

Blomenkamp said task force members were more confused than disappointed, though there’s a chance they could still be deployed, he said.

“We are as ready to go tonight as we were last night,” he said.

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