Virginia Task Force One heads to Haiti to search for quake survivors

After Saturday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti that left hundreds dead, team members from Virginia Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue got word they might be going, so they got ready for deployment.

Now, they’re on the way as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) disaster response team.

“We’re part of their mission to try to find survivors,” said Captain Kristi Bartlett, one of several dozen Fairfax County Fire and Rescue personnel who departed for Haiti on Sunday afternoon.

The 65-person VA-TF1 team includes 59 people from the fire department and four search dogs.

Bartlett is going as a canine search specialist along with her Belgian Malinois, Ivan.

Captain Kristi Bartlett, part of the team rescue team heading to Haiti, poses with Ivan, a canine search specialist. (Courtesy Virginia Task Force 1)

Before the official order came, Bartlett she had an idea the team would likely be sent to Haiti “because of the devastation they experienced about 11 years ago. We just know that their buildings don’t hold up very well when earthquakes happen at this magnitude,” Bartlett said.

Tons of medical equipment and tools are also on the way — including devices to help the rescue team break through concrete, such as saws, drills and hydraulic concrete-breaking machines.

Bartlett said she and Ivan do a lot of training around the U.S. for natural disasters. The training sites include situations that “mimic like a building has collapsed,” Bartlett said.

Their rescue efforts include another unwelcome layer of complication: A global health crisis.

“As of you know, doing this during the COVID pandemic, we use the support of each other to get through this. We have all our protective PPE, and then we rely on each other for emotional support,” Bartlett said.

So far, there is no word on how long the team will remain in Haiti. That all depends on what’s needed once they arrive there.

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