Norwich Township firefighter Jeff Morales is a member of Ohio Task Force One, an urban search and rescue team that was on standby following the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

Norwich Township firefighter Jeff Morales is a member of Ohio Task Force One, an urban search and rescue team that was on standby following the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

Morales, a 23-year veteran with the Norwich Fire Department and a former Air Force firefighter, is a rescue specialist.

"Any major disaster from tornado, building collapse or explosion, then it's our specialty to go in there and try to pull the victims out," Morales said. "It's the same team that went to New York for 9/11 and they've been to Katrina."

On the morning of Jan. 14, the 160 volunteer firefighters from around the state that make up OH-TF1 (one of 28 such teams in the nation) got the call to report to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton for possible deployment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"(They) were told aircraft were on the way, and were stood down because they couldn't get anybody in and out of the airport in Haiti, which is understandable because of the infrastructure damage," Norwich Township Fire Chief Dave Long said.

Over the next two days, aircraft intended to take OH-TF1 to Haiti were diverted from Wright-Patterson.

"We were 10 minutes from being on the airplane, the airplanes were loaded, we were ready to get on the buses, and the base commander came in and said that they had to shut the planes down and unload our gear because the planes were being taken somewhere else," Morales said. "This happened several times."

After four days, the team was deactivated on the afternoon of Jan. 17. Morales returned to work 24 hours later.

Since the earthquake happened in Haiti, it was considered an international disaster, and the State Department was in charge instead of FEMA.

On Jan. 25, a State Department spokesman told ThisWeek he didn't know why OH-TF1 wasn't deployed, but seven other American search-and-rescue team and rescue units from more than 40 other countries were in Haiti after the earthquake. Haiti's government called off the missions last weekend.

"The focus may have been to keep teams ready here in case something happened to a team (in Haiti), or maybe just to protect us from all the aftershocks," Morales said. "We'll be ready for the next incident."