The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) is home to an elite team of specially trained personnel who make up the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) team. It is one of 28 in the nation that stand ready to respond to a natural or man-made emergency anywhere in the United States.
Its official name is California Task Force 8, or CA-TF8 and is made up of 210 people from 22 agencies. Eighty percent of the members are from SDFD, though many other fire departments across the county take part. There are also doctors on the team from Sharp Healthcare and structural engineers from the City of San Diego. The team also has search dogs, specially trained to find victims, which means some members of the team have the responsibility of being full-time handlers and trainers for the dogs. There are now nine dogs; that will expand to 12 soon.
The team is divided into three task forces of 70 members (and four dogs) each. If they are needed, they might send an entire task force of 70, or half. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) oversees the teams around the nation and pays for their year-round training and for their expenses when the team is deployed.
FEMA divides the nation into three regions; west, central and east. If there is need, the team nearest the incident is sent first. After that, there is a rotation and whatever task force is next in line will be sent, as needed. If the San Diego US&R team is at the top of the rotation list, the team will prepare so they can leave immediately should the call come. A giant warehouse of equipment, food and water gets loaded into semi-trucks to be sent in a convoy. In addition to their specialized equipment, they carry enough food, water and shelter to be self-sufficient for seven days if necessary. Most notably, the US&R team was sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and to New York City after 9/11.
“CA-TF8 is a highly trained multi-disciplined team that has and continues to respond to large incidents of national significance such as earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, tornados, landslides and acts of terrorism. Task Force members are skilled in search and rescue of collapsed structures, swiftwater and flood rescue, large area search and hazardous materials mitigation,” said Chief David Gerboth, US&R CA-TF8 program manager. “Due to the commitment and dedication of CA-TF8 personnel and their respective agencies, the Task Force is ready to respond 24/7/365 within the county, the state and the nation.”
In 2018, CA-TF8 was deployed to Hawaii in August for Hurricane Lane and to Northern California when the Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise in November. Logistics experts from the team went to Hawaii to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Olivia in September and some individual team members to the East Coast after Hurricanes Florence and Michael hit.