A Pierce County-based Urban Search and Rescue team has completed a record deployment to the massive SR 530 landslide in Snohomish County.
The first 80-member rotation of Washington Task Force 1 (WATF-1) deployed on March 24 and returned April 4. The second 80-member rotation deployed on April 4 and returned on April 19.
This is the first time a Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue team has used a state activation to serve as a local, county-to-county resource. Prior to this incident, the team had responded to such events as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. This was also a record-setting deployment of 27 total days for the team. Most US&R teams deploy for 14 days or less.
“It was hard, heartbreaking work, but whenever we were able to reunite a victim with their family, it gave us more energy to continue on with our mission,” said Fran Sharp, a logistician from the first rotation.
Both rotations were stationed on the east side of the slide in Darrington, with their base camp at the Darrington Rodeo/Bluegrass Grounds. Team members include professionals from various first responder agencies, primarily from Pierce and King counties. The members have skills in operations, planning, emergency medical, logistics, search and rescue, technical information, structural engineering, canine search, and communications.
“We are blessed to serve as the home base for an expert team of emergency professionals, and I’m proud of the work they did to support the response to the SR 530 Slide,” said County Executive Pat McCarthy. “They provided critical assistance in searching for victims and bringing closure to families and loved ones. Our first responders and emergency management professionals will learn from this experience, which will help us prepare for future emergencies.”
Participating agencies on the WATF-1 Urban Search & Rescue team include the Bellevue Fire Department, Bothell Fire Department, Coeur D’Alene Fire Department, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One, Kent Fire Department, Mercer Island Fire Department, Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Redmond Fire Department, Renton Fire and Emergency Services Department, Seattle Fire Department, Shoreline Fire Department, South King Fire and Rescue, Tacoma Fire Department, Tukwila Fire Department, Valley Regional Fire Authority, West Pierce Fire and Rescue, and Woodinville Fire and Rescue. Nearly two dozen employees of Pierce County Emergency Management assisted in the deployment and demobilization process.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office also assisted in the response through its own mutual aid agreement with Snohomish County. Dr. Thomas Clark and eight members of his staff – including pathologists, investigators, autopsy technicians and administrative staff - assisted with the difficult and delicate task of identifying victims.
Sheri Badger, Pierce County Emergency Management
(253) 798-2204 (desk)
(253) 377-4149 (cell)
Hunter George, Pierce County Communications