Mountain Wilderness Search Dogs-Search-Rescue-Recovery Disaster
P.O.Box# 30364,Portland,Oregon 97230-0364.(503)650-1904.
2200Hrs. Dinner at Windys with FEMA Region 7 EOC. Went to FEMA
Center near site and was told by EOC operations leader that we
should check in with them on 04-22-95.
04-22-95 0500Hrs. Central Time. Called FEMA HQ No Answer. Drove to
site with K-9-8 Becky Nimmo and SAR Dog "Quigley". Checked in with
FEMA administration and obtained SAR Dog/Team Identification
numbers. Photo ID and instructions to check in at site operations.
This through the Oklahoma FBI office. FEMA ID# 1800 Series.
0900Hrs. Checked in with operating FEMA Team leaders. Our teams were
placed on standby to gear up. 1100Hrs. Geared up and went in with
approval to check two areas with current FEMA teams. Their FEMA Dog
Teams were resting and we were ready to go.
1130Hrs. Obtained approval to go in and check the areas. SAR Dog
"Valerie" with Handler Harry Oakes and SAR Dog team "Quigley" and
Becky Nimmo. We entered the basement following the fire department
personnel. When the fire department personnel team leader asked us
to check the Corner of the Nursery/day care area SAR Dogs "Valerie
and "Quigley" confirmed (4) alerts (All Death alerts). The Fire
Department crew started digging and removing debri.
Oakes was later informed (4) children and (6) adults were found dead
under this location. 1230Hrs. SAR Dog Handler Becky Nimmo and
Quigley drove to airport and picked up support team Charlie Irving
While doing so, Handler Harry Oakes and SAR Dog "Valerie" went down
to the basement where the first floor and caved in near a stairwell.
The fire crew asked Harry to Check an area. "Valerie" alerted and we
were then done with the search of this area. Later, Harry observed a
women's upper torso and right leg were uncovered in this area. The
woman was decapitated, naked, covered with unexploded fertilizer.
The FEMA SAR Dog teams then were ready to go back to work. Harry and
Valerie then took a break. In checking in at 1400Hrs. Harry was told
his team was needed in the outside of the building perimeter to
check for body parts that had been blown blocks away.
This request came in from a Firefighter Supervisor. A check of the
immediate area located numerous small particles of what appeared to
be Body Part splatter at high impact. The supervisor of this area
was notified.1900Hrs. Our dogs and Handlers were exhausted and we
debriefed and went to the Tinker Air Force Base and got some rest.
On 04-25-95 0900Hrs. We were informed that if we were to be used
today we were again to check in with the EOC Operations leader and
if they needed us they would use us. We then checked in and were
told they didn't need our services right now as NO DOG TEAMS FEMA or
Otherwise were allowed to go in at this time do to the hazardous
We then drove to St. Anthony Hospital 1000N.Lee P.O Box# 205
Oklahoma City,Ok.73101.(405) 231-3065. We meant with Kathy Tagnesi
Vice President Behavioral Medicine. Obtained permission to perform
Grief Therapy Visits with the victims of the Blast that were still
in the hospital. We visited with (5) patients and were welcomed with
open arms and a lot of tears by all who greeted us. Supervisor Kathy
Tagnesi said that the patience were very receptive and opened up to
us about their stories of tragedy. Upon completing the Grief Therapy
Visits at this hospital, we then drove over to the children's
hospital where we gave away numerous teddy bears donated by Portland
We did not enter the hospital as the young children were in Critical
Condition and we did not wish to stress them or their families any
further. We then drove down to the staging area and were told not to
enter the search area as the President of the United States was
viewing the area. We then assisted in Grief Therapy with the other
emergency workers that worked along with us.
The SAR Dogs were all getting depressed along with their handlers
and support teams. We then went to the CISM (Critical Incident
Stress Management Debriefing), Team and debriefed with professional
councilors. We found in our debriefing that our experience was
pretty much similar as many other volunteers. FEMA and Non Fema
teams responded from around the world. 75% of the volunteer
FireFighter teams sat around and were not allowed in the building
structure. They too were frustrated. We all stuck together and
helped the families of the victims from around the area that showed
up waiting for news about their loved ones.
Our mission was successful. We were able to obtain donations from
the City of Portland local citizens in any large operation there are
EGOS and Politics to deal with. It is our understanding that
numerous local SAR Teams placed telephone calls to some of the TV
Stations complaining that we were down there.
Harry Oakes. SAR Dog Coordinator. MWSD
Please don't forget.
Today I drove up to the mountains. I sat next to a creek fed by snow melt and rain, and I listened as the wind swept through the pine trees. Here surrounded by God and what I cherish the most, life itself in peace, I fought back the tears as I remembered the horrors of 5 years ago - our search for the victims who died in the Oklahoma City Bombing.
For today, I was invited to bring my search dog partner Valorie to Oklahoma City and be a part of the opening ceremony at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. I thought long and hard about whether I should make the trip or not. When I finished, I decided I just couldn't handle the memories, the horror, the cries of pain, anger, and sadness all over again. I don't need a memorial to remind me, I just have to close my eyes. The vision of death will always be there for me.
Everyone keeps telling me how horrible it must have been to be a part of that rescue effort. Seeing the cold lifeless men, women, and children lying amongst the ruins. Their bodies and body parts, and blood staining the walls, walkways, debris fields, and what was left of the ceilings. I keep telling them, it's no different than any other of the disasters we respond to, where we see and smell the same things. The only difference with this disaster, was that this disaster was caused by human stupidity. 168 men, women, children, lost their lives because a group of people somewhere along the way lost their ability to talk, listen, and communicate. They took their built up anger out on the innocent, forever changing our country.
I remember my first assignment when I arrived Friday night was to clear the fourth floor area. As I stepped into the tangled rebar and fractured concrete debris, I turned my head lamp on so I could see where I was walking. My lamp shined down upon a woman's remains lying directly in front of me. Her head, arms, legs were gone. Just her naked torso was laying there, covered in fertilizer that hadn't detonated. The explosion ripped her clothing from her body.
Instead of stepping over her and moving on, I took the time and covered her remains with a space blanket I had in my pack. I've seen thousands of bodies and body parts, till this day I often wonder why I covered her up. I guess I was just thinking, "if that was one of my family members, how would I have wanted her remains to be treated? - With utmost respect."
My search dog Valorie immediately alerted to her corpse and laid next to my pack, whining. SAR dogs get upset at death just as we do. The scene grew silent around me. The fireman who had been digging on my right came over after hearing SAR dog Valorie's whining and asked me "what was wrong with your dog?" When I pulled up the space blanket, the fireman just stood and stared in silence. There were tears in his eyes as he covered the remains back up. He walked to my search dog, knelt down and leaned over to pet my search dog. SAR Dog Valorie licked the tears from his face and he sat down next to her and cried. He held Valorie in his arms and just cried. I put my hands on his shoulders and cried alongside him.
After a few minutes, we pulled ourselves together and returned to work. For each body we stepped around during the search, there was either a searcher, a fireman, or a police officer, standing next to the victim's remains with tears of sadness coming from their eyes. I worked my way through the assigned area and then was asked to move to the pit. The pit was the area of the structure where the children's day care had been.
We moved carefully around the debris and marked four more spots where search dog Valorie alerted to dead human remains under the rubble. I later found out there were 4 dead children and 6 dead adults under the debris piles where Valorie alerted.
I then went outside, sat about 100 yards away from where the bomb had gone off, and I held my search dog Valorie and I cried. A minister hearing my cries, came over and together we cried, prayed, and tried to make sense of what had happened here.
Through prayer I was able to transform my anger, my sadness, and my hatred for the person(s) who performed this horrible act of cowardice. I didn't want to feel hate as it was hate that caused all of this destruction.
All through the search efforts on Friday and Saturday my search dog partner never left my side, and through the horrors of what we found, Valorie was always ready to give love to anyone who needed it. A family member begging for us to find his daughter, a fireman who collapsed on the ground from exhaustion, a small child peering through the barrier fence with his family watching all of us work.
On our plane ride back to Oregon on the following Tuesday I wrote the following words.
|I look into their eyes. The live, the dead, their families, the survivors, the rescuers, the rescue dogs. We share their loss, their pain, their sorrows.
All the damage, the buildings, streets, bodies, cars, our lives, their lives, humanity.
Our hearts scream for justice as we pray for miracles. As I choke back the tears of anger and anguish, I see love, compassion, and patience. I hold my SAR Dog Valorie close and I cry, God, how can someone do this to someone else?
As we try to find peace in our hearts I just have to look into my partners eyes (Valorie) and through Gods gift to me (my search dog), I learn there is hope for this world.
We all want to help. To take their pain away, like so many searchers before me, and with me, we are shocked at the horror we see.
We now have to leave, not wanting to, but we must get back to our homes, our families, our jobs. With a hevy heart and tears in our eyes, we say "Goodbye".
Tonight when I get off the plane and get home, I'll hold my son close in my arms and I'll share with him what all the people from the Oklahoma City Disaster site shared with me. A WHOLE LOT OF LOVE. God Bless Them All.