Text & photos by Shaun Madigan.
“April 25, 2015, 7:30 pm: CMAT (Canadian Medical Assistance Team) sent an email to Burnaby Firefighters (Local 323) requesting members for assistance in Nepal. (Members would have to cover all costs on their own.) By Sunday morning the list of Local 323 members was confirmed and those on it were told to report to fire station 1. Thirty hours later we arrived at the UN camp located on a Nepalese military base at Kathmandu airport. This was a multinational US&R (Urban Search & Rescue) team of roughly 600 people from Germany, England, Netherlands, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere. After only four hours of sleep, the BBY FF team leader was in the UN meeting getting assigned the area of Zone D in Kathmandu. What follows is some of what we did during the next five days.” – Shaun Madigan, firefighter, Burnaby FF.
This zone of Kathmandu had some serious damage but was not hit as hard as other zones. Here Lt. Doug Petti was gathering information on any possible trapped persons in this partially collapsed multi-family dwelling. The locals said no one was trapped or missing. BBY FF then marked the site with standard US&R markings and took GPS coordinates for UN records. Lt. Petti also tried to advise the locals to stay out of the sections still standing but badly damaged. With numerous aftershocks occurring, there was a high possibility of these collapsing. Lt. Petti soon realized along with the other firefighters that this was the only place these people had to go, and they accepted this danger.
After completing searching Zone D in Kathmandu, Burnaby firefighters attended a team debrief. The news from our team leader was that we did not have any new assignments from the UN at this time. Not finding any survivors over the last two days, team morale was being tested. Left to right: Shane Biglow, Shawn Mohammed, Brad Dairon, Larry Watkinson, John Panichelli.
Retired Captain Mark Pullen and search dog Hunter find a place to rest. The stress level on both searcher and dog was extremely high in the town of Bahrabise. The heat, large crowds of people, the smell of death, the potential for collapse of buildings in the working area, and packs of Nepalese feral dogs trying to get at Hunter all added to this stress. The Nepalese military requested we search the area around Bahrabise. Up to this point no other search teams had made it here.
With new intel of unsearched areas coming from Major Giri of the Nepalese military, BBY FF responded. Upon arrival we were approached by a local who asked if he could take us to a collapsed area. At this area we found members of the Nepalese military along with US&R workers from Portugal and Brazil already digging. A Nepalese Captain asked if we could also use our search dogs to confirm what their dogs had found as positive hits. Then with positive hits from the dogs in both groups, we began digging. After roughly four hours of removing debris, and with darkness falling, the Nepalese Captain made the call to stop work. Top left to right: Ian Hetherington, Brad Dairon, Doug Petti. Bottom left to right: Norm Chow, Johnny Payette, Danny Ciolfitto, Justin Lansing.
The UN told our team leader that the S&R mission would now be changing over to a humanitarian aid mission. Not long after receiving this information, the UN started to break down their headquarters and we began to pack up. While breaking down our camp a squadron of four USMC Ospreys flew in as the sun was setting. The sight of these military machines used for humanitarian aid was a very powerful moment that caught everyone’s attention in the multi-national camp.
As we loaded up the last of our equipment before flying out, many of the members had mixed emotions. Should we be leaving the Nepalese people with so much more that had to be done? Then one of our team members explained that a barrel of water is made of many drops – and we were one of those drops. Most of us realized we had made a difference in some Nepalese people’s lives, and we could go home with our heads high.
The Burnaby FF Local 323 would like to thank the Burnaby Fire Department, Cathay Pacific Airlines, Dragonair, the Nepalese Army, Milwaukee Tools, Pacific Blue Cross, Joanne Wong, Associated Fire & Safety, and Telus. The Burnaby Firefighters Local 323 have joined together in a fundraising effort started by retired Burnaby Fire Captain Eoin White who has run a trekking business in Nepal for 12 years (through his friendships we were able to have a bus and a guide to take us wherever we needed to go). The money raised will assist the guides and their families who assisted our team during our mission despite having lost everything. We hope to raise $35,000 to help build new homes for the seven families.
(Check www.fundaid.ca/Nepal where you’ll see a search box that states “find campaigns”, and type in Burnaby Firefighters). Every person who makes a donation will be entered in a draw to win $1,200 of tools courtesy of Milwaukee Tools.
View more of Shaun Madigan’s photos of Nepal here.