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Publish Date: 9/1/2005

Longmont firefighters join effort


LONGMONT — Two local firefighters who are also members of Colorado’s elite urban rescue team were set to arrive in New Orleans on Wednesday evening to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Lt. Shawn Pierce and firefighter Scott Opie, along with half of the Colorado Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1, have been sent to aid the Big Easy.

Both Pierce and Opie are specially trained rescuers who will likely be pressed into service searching collapsed buildings to find survivors and bodies.

“I imagine they’ll be doing a lot of search-and-rescue stuff,” said city Battalion Chief Mike Tabert, who also serves on the CUSAR team as a safety officer but was not deployed on this operation.

Tabert said the task force’s convoy was in Dallas early Wednesday morning, and he didn’t expect to get many regular updates on the group’s efforts because the lack of power in New Orleans means cell phones don’t work.

Task force spokeswoman Cindy Matthews said the team will stay in regular contact with its Denver-area headquarters through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a satellite phone.

But she said the families of team members have been warned they may not hear from their loved ones for several days because personal communications are so difficult right now.

Matthews said only about 30 members of the team were sent to New Orleans, half its usual full deployment size, because the rescues will be conducted in buildings constructed largely of wood. The task force is equipped for heavy rescue and recovery of the kind needed in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York City.

Team members can expect to spend up to two weeks on site, and the group comes equipped to remain self-sufficient for up to three days without outside food, water or shelter.

The team’s history includes being deployed to help recover parts of space shuttle Columbia, rescue people during the 1997 floods in Fort Collins and work the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The salaries of team members are paid by the federal government while on deployment.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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