Saturday, August 26, 2006
better late than never
It's amazing, the things we'll do to research a book. Last Friday I was "buried" in a huge pile of broken concrete and smashed automobiles. It was all for a good cause (I mean besides my obvious benefits from the experience as a writer). My daughter and I volunteered to be victims for Indiana Task Force 1, Search and Rescue. These are the people who volunteer their time and sometimes risk their own safety to locate and rescue us after things like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, as well as searching for those who have simply gone missing. They train nearly every weekend -- all so they'll be ready when disaster strikes.
It was hot. It was humid. It was dirty. Clad in a stunning chartreuse hardhat, I had to slither through a slot that was at an odd angle beneath another concrete slab. It was awkward and embarrassingly tight (perhaps I need to lay off the ice cream?). I entered a void in the rubble and stayed there for about four hours. I was the lucky volunteer, I had a space about six feet in diameter and three and a half feet high, with a tiny bit of sky showing. They had to find me with one of those cameras they snake into rubble. I had to pretend to be unconscious and discovered just how difficult it is for me not to be obedient (I'm a pathetic rule follower right to the very marrow of my bones) and respond when they called, "Ma'am, can you hear me?" At least I had room to move when my legs fell asleep. If I'd been thinking ahead, I would have taken a book. My daughter (wearing a fabulous blue hardhat -- I was a little jealous, as blue is my favorite color) slid into a concrete pipe two feet in diameter -- no room for a book, she just had to nap in between training groups.
They flew rescue teams in one at a time on a Blackhawk helicopter. Each team had a thirty minute window to locate victims. Some teams had search dogs, some didn't. A couple of times, they didn't find me ... so I guess that's sorta like a huge "Game Over" coming up on the video screen. Too bad for Susan, she didn't make it.
The thing that struck me most was how incredibly difficult it is, to not only maneuver on this pile (which was much more stable than those from a real disaster) but how difficult it was to locate victims, even with the search dogs (which made it infinitely easier than searching without K-9 assistance). I stand in awe of these people -- and they do it for nothing. Actually, it's less than nothing when you consider all of the costs they incur and are never reimbursed for.
While we were there training, the coordinator received a call. Someone needed a K-9 Search and Rescue team to search for a missing three year old. Wow. Talk about bringing the importance of this whole exercise home!
Anyway, if you're ever asked to get buried alive, or lay a trail for a search dog, please do it. You never know when you'll need these guys for real.