When disaster strikes on a massive scale, who do fire departments call for help?

When disaster strikes on a massive scale, who do fire departments call for help?

Whether a disaster is natural or man-made, they all begin at a local level where fire departments and other emergency providers can rapidly deplete, exhaust and overwhelm their resources. To help them, a request is made by the state to the federal government to assign a task force for task forces to support state and local emergency responders' efforts to locate victims and manage recovery efforts.

Overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Urban Search and Rescue Response System consists of 28 task forces strategically positioned throughout the United States. An 80-member task-force team is able to deploy within six hours of being activated to catastrophic events involving collapsed structures, wide area searches, flooding caused by natural disasters, such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and acts of domestic terrorism.

Task-force members are the some of the most highly trained first responders in the nation; their special rescue skills, techniques and equipment allow them to work in extremely dangerous conditions and environments day or night.

The state of Ohio has such a resource near Dayton. It is an urban search-and-rescue task force and goes by the designation Ohio Task Force 1, or OHTF-1 for short, and is staffed by highly trained individuals, primarily firefighter paramedics who work in our communities and come from all over the state. It comprises rescue specialists, emergency physicians, structural engineers, K-9 units, hazmat technicians, communications specialists, planning specialists and logistic specialists.

Jackson Township Fire Department has been a participating agency with OHTF-1 since 1998, with its first member, firefighter Kenneth Sayre, and two current members: me, Lt. Michael Aeh, with 21 years of service, and Lt. Robert Schneider, who has 10 years of service to the fire department. Both of us were deployed for Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 for nine days helping victims in New Jersey and New York City.

Most recently, I was deployed on Oct. 6 for Hurricane Matthew for six days, traveling down to the Florida-Georgia line and then up the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, following the path of the damage before setting up a base of operations at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

OHTF-1 rescue teams and their boats were dispatched to Fayetteville and Lumberton in North Carolina for active rescue missions of flood victims, beginning in the middle of the night and lasting more than 48 hours. They rescued 75 people and 46 animals and searched 49 structures.

Although large-scale disasters are not a common occurrence, the volunteer members of OHTF-1 train constantly on the skills and knowledge needed to mitigate high-risk, low-frequency events. With the support of our township board of trustees and fire chiefs, the Jackson Township Fire Department's members of OHTF-1 are prepared to answer the call whenever the unthinkable happens -- locally, nationally or internationally.

For more information concerning OHTF-1, visit facebook.com/OHTF1.

Michael Aeh is a lieutenant for the Jackson Township Fire Department.