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Federal Way firefighters, volunteers help in mudslide rescue

Federal Way resident Derek Stephani waits to be assigned to a crew on Tuesday morning. Stephani drove to the site to help find mudslide victims after he heard the call on the radio.    - Mark Mulligan, The Herald
Federal Way resident Derek Stephani waits to be assigned to a crew on Tuesday morning. Stephani drove to the site to help find mudslide victims after he heard the call on the radio.
— image credit: Mark Mulligan, The Herald

Federal Way firefighters and volunteers are part of a search effort underway to find 90 people who are still missing after a massive mudslide in Oso, Wash. that killed at least 25 people.

Snohomish County declared a state of emergency on March 22, followed by Gov. Inslee’s proclamation of emergency late that night.

South King Fire and Rescue (SKFR) deployed five firefighters with specialized training on Monday night to help in the rescue and recovery efforts in Snohomish County.

Firefighters Gary White, Paul Mernaugh and Travis McKenney, along with Lieutenants Roy Smith and Shane Smith are all a part of a specialized FEMA Puget Sound Task Force that is sent to emergencies throughout the country, said SKFR Lt. Jeff Bellinghausen with the department’s Community Assistance Office.

“They left during the night with two semi-trucks and several trailers laden with equipment and 76 firefighters from the region,” Bellinghausen wrote in an email, noting the firefighters will be deployed for 10-14 days and will stay at the base camp at Darrington Bluegrass park, about 10 minutes from the mudslide area. “They drove through the night and arrived at the base camp near the slide at 5 a.m.”

SKFR firefighters went directly to a briefing about their roles, were sent straight to work searching for victims and did not return to camp until late Tuesday night, Bellinghausen said.

On Wednesday, the firefighters searched with more than 200 other volunteers through more than one square mile of mud and debris that overwhelmed roads, houses and cars that is up to 15 feet deep in areas, he noted.

Bellinghausen said he receives daily updates from the firefighters, who “are contending with rain, mud, MRES (Meals Ready to Eat) for all meals, sleeping on cots in an open shelter and, of course, the physically and psychologically tough work.”

The federal government maintains 28 highly trained search and rescue teams throughout the United States that are made up of local firefighters; 12 teams are on call at any time, he noted. SKFR has nine members who participate in the Urban Search and Rescue team.

Derek Stephani, of Federal Way, drove to the site to volunteer to find slide victims Tuesday morning when he heard the call on the radio. Stephani, an electrician who mountaineers and has been helped by search and rescue personnel in an emergency in the past, wanted to come up and do whatever he could to aid the effort.

Sound Publishing’s Heraldnet.com staff contributed to this report.

 

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