‘Show us where to dig…’
Written by: Retired Burnaby Fire Dept. Captain Mark Pullen
I have thought about my deployment to Port-au-Prince many times since 2010. The memories keep coming back to me.
The people standing on the streets in front of the collapsed buildings, waiting for help to arrive. ‘Show us where to dig and we will dig’, they said.
Although, we felt safe amongst the Haitian people, our team was transported by UN soldiers, to offer us security, as we were taken to specific locations within the city. I wondered at the amount of security.
We searched buildings for the scent of the living but most areas had nothing but the odour of the deceased.
The weather was hot. The pace was slow. Later we joined with UK firefighters. One K-9 team, a search dog and handler, per group of firefighters. We walked the streets of damaged and destroyed homes. I came upon a man outside his small concrete home, which lay collapsed in front of us. ‘My sister is dead, somewhere here’, he said as he pointed down to his house, ‘Can you show me where she is’? The dog searched and was able to find an area with the the strongest scent. I showed him where and he thanked me.
At a heavily damaged building on a university campus, the brother of a victim asked us to search. He had been speaking to him through the narrow cracks of the rubble during the previous night. We went and looked into an opening in the concrete and could see that a man lay dead deep within the ruins, hidden from the brothers view. The firefighter went to the brother and broke the news to him.
In the evening we were taken by UN soldiers to a location in the city where shortly after the earthquake an RCMP officer had been texting from the inside of a collapsed building. With only a confirmed area but no specific address, we only detected the smell of deceased which was always in the air.
We were sent to locations that had confirmed trapped victims. There had been voices from the ruins during the night. Later, we were only responding to areas where it was confirmed that people were talking.
We searched the next day and in the afternoon while waiting for team members to return to our rented transit bus, a contingent of Police arrived across the street and started shooting at people who were perceived as looters. We saw some arrests and people were taken away. Our Search Teams were recalled off the streets and taken back to the airport camp. The searching was temporarily suspended.