Less than a week after Task Force I returned from New Orleans, a second, larger force was deployed Tuesday to continue search and rescue operations and to aid in recovery efforts.
The new squad is a full Type I team, which Capt. Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District said consists of nine vehicles, 80 task force members and 75,000 pounds of equipment.
The task force was set to arrive in New Orleans early this morning. Blomenkamp said that 25 of the 80 rescuers are from Boone County, with others coming from Clayton, St. Charles and Steelville.
Assistant Chief Doug Westhoff, who led the first task force, discussed the team’s mission at a news conference Tuesday.
“It appears they’re still doing house-by-house searches as the water levels are dropping,” Westhoff said. “I saw video of some forcible entries. But we’re willing to provide manpower, tools and resources for anything they need to accomplish.”
Westhoff said the task force is prepared to assist in recovery operations if needed.
“If that’s what the task is, that’s what we’ll do,” he said. “We did some of that on our first deployment. That transition occurs naturally from rescue to recovery, and I think it’s more likely now on our second trip.”
The task force’s convoy included a line of vans, cars, sport utility vehicles and two black, White Knight buses that would transport the group. Three tractor-trailers hauled equipment used to tear through steel and move concrete.
In the midst of the heavy rescue equipment, one piece stood out. Loaded next to a forklift was a large grill. Chief Steve Paulsell said the grill has become a source of pride for the Missourians and has earned the envy of the 27 other Federal Emergency Management Agency teams. It was purchased when the task force realized it could save money by cooking its own food. Paulsell said the grill also serves a second, more subtle purpose; it gives the rescuers a sense of normalcy after 12- to 14-hour days in the disaster area.
After a last-minute briefing, the rescuers loaded their personal equipment onto the buses, climbed aboard and found seats. The canine search specialists sat beside their dogs. In the last moments before departure, rescuers took time to hug family members, finish phone calls or smoke a final cigarette before the long ride south.
As a white-haired man in a yellow shirt directed the last of the rescuers toward the buses and the drivers turned on their engines, the sky began to darken. Thunder rolled in the distance, and before long lightning flashed behind the convoy. A white SUV with fire district plates turned on its siren and headed toward the front of the column.
Task Force I was on the road.