Phoenix search and rescue teams return home from Washington - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Phoenix search and rescue teams return home from Washington

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - For the past three weeks, Phoenix firefighters and search and rescue dogs have been on the ground in Oso, Washington, helping to recover bodies buried by a massive mudslide.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called in 20 canine teams from around the country to help with recovery efforts in Oso.  Two of those teams came from right here in the valley and after spending 20 days in Washington, they arrived home Tuesday night.

"It was indescribable.  There was a lot of destruction," said Capt. John Dean of the Phoenix Fire Department. 

"It looked like Norman Rockwell and homes and meadows and then this swatch completely devoid of color," said Phoenix Fire Engineer Tim Steckler.

Dean and Steckler spent three weeks on the ground in Oso.  Their search and rescue dogs, Booter and Rogue, were by their side, digging through mud 50 feet deep.

"You can't put it into words.. there was so many emotions and so many experiences," said Dean.

They had the somber mission to recover the bodies of the victims who lost their lives.

"You can't train for something like this.  It was unbelievable," said Steckler.

Rescue teams worked shoulder to shoulder with community members and families who lost loved ones in the disaster.

"Their chainsaws and their trucks and their ATVs and their four wheelers and they just seemed to step in between our ranks and supplement and what we were doing," said Dean. "One of the lumberjacks had stripped one of the damaged trees and made it into a flag pole, so among all this black and white was this huge red,, white and blue American flag."

They faced harsh conditions.  10 hour days, freezing rain and unreliable heat.  Small signs of appreciation kept them going, like a letter from a young student found in a laundry bag.

"I started reading it and it was just powerful.  It was from a young lady named Ashley.  She is from a middle school in Seattle," said Steckler.  "Kind of inspired us and rallied us together and all four of us in our tent.  We drew some strength from that."

41 people were killed in the mudslide and recovery work is not done.  Two people are still listed as missing.
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