How Fairfax Co. first responders are supporting rescue efforts in Turkey after devastating earthquake

About 80 members of a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force based in Fairfax County, Virginia, are now in Turkey to help with rescue efforts in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that has killed over 20,000 people between Turkey and Syria.

Capt. Daniel Gajewski, operations chief for Urban Search and Rescue Virginia Task Force 1, said the D.C.-area team is one of many rescue groups that are deployed to assist with the operation. The Virginia first responders, he said, are communicating with the local government to help cover as much ground as possible.

The response team is sponsored by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and includes about 200 people who are experts in rescuing people from collapsed areas.

Gajewski characterized the earthquake as substantial and said it left the most devastation he has seen in his career. It impacted a part of Turkey that’s home to 13.5 million people, The Associated Press reported, and an unclear number in Syria.

“This is the first time I’ve witnessed a 15-story building that literally collapsed down to one story,” he said. “It’s eye opening. It’s sad. And then on that pile, you’re looking at all these citizens who are working together to try to affect these rescues.”

As the first responders drove down area roads, Gajewski said, they noticed community members working to help. The earthquake impacted a large area, he said, adding that many multistory buildings collapsed.

Many of the locals don’t have the equipment they may need, so “that’s why we’re here,” he said.

“There’s a lot of multistory residential dwellings here with pancake-style collapse,” Gajewski said. “When they collapse, there’s not a lot of void spaces, so it makes the rescue effort very difficult.”

Some first responders have compared the rescue efforts to those underway after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Gajewski said.

The Fairfax County-based team usually stays on international missions for up to three weeks, but could stay longer if needed.

“You see these 10, 12, 15-story buildings that have just collapsed down to nothing,” Gajewski said. “It’s crazy.”

Some organizations in the D.C. region that have ties to Turkey are seeking support for their work to help earthquake survivors. More information on how to help is available here.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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