Pierce County-based search-and-rescue team helping in Snohomish County

The News TribuneMarch 25, 2014 

About 70 members of a Pierce County-based search-and-rescue team began searching Tuesday for victims from the massive mudslide in Snohomish County.

Firefighters, police officers, dog handlers and doctors in the Puget Sound region make up the team, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

About 28 members are from Pierce County. They include workers from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, West Pierce Fire & Rescue, East Pierce Fire & Rescue, the Tacoma Fire Department and Gig Harbor Fire.

Pierce County’s Department of Emergency Management is the sponsoring agency for the urban search and rescue task force. It is one of 28 FEMA-funded teams nationwide.

The locally-based team was activated Monday night to help within Washington state for the first time, said Lowell Porter, director of the Department of Emergency Management.

“They’re specifically trained to do this kind of mission,” Porter said.

The area’s team previously was deployed to help in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Porter and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy approved sending the task force Monday night before the White House had formally authorized federal reimbursement.

“We had life at stake and we felt that to not get a rescue team there sooner because of money was the wrong decision,” said Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps.

Snohomish County officials requested the help and said they would pick up the daily tab of $125,000, if necessary, Phelps said.

That prospect was avoided when the counties got word that President Barack Obama ordered federal aid to supplement state and local emergency efforts.

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