Delray, WPB firefighters rescue four from rubble in Haiti

By Chuck Weber - bio | email

DELRAY BEACH, FL (WFLX) - A search-and-rescue team, made up of firefighters and a prominent developer from Palm Beach County, has returned from Haiti. Their mission: a success -- lives were saved. But, at the same time, one firefighter called the trip disheartening.

"The citizens of Haiti are in distress," assessed Lt. Ed Beardsley of Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. "Just about every other building is rubble. There's bodies underneath. It was very upsetting, but we went there with a job to do. And we performed as best as we could."

The team was assembled by prominent Delray Beach developer Frank McKinney, and flown to Haiti with donated aircraft. The group included four firefighters from Delray Beach and one from West Palm Beach.

Working with other search-and-rescue teams from across the planet, the local group helped save four people from collapsed buildings. At an apartment building, one of the local firefighters got incredible video of team members pulling a woman to safety. They later helped bring to safety, a second woman from the same building.

The next day, with the help of a tire jack from a Jordanian team, local group members extricated a man trapped in a hospital. They also transported a fourth victim to medical care.

"Once you got down in the hole, it was hot, it was tiring," explained Lt. Steven Moews of Delray Fire-Rescue. "It was such a small space to work, so we constantly tried to rotate people out."

"No training could get you ready for what we were in there doing," offered Delray firefighter-paramedic Greg Tabeek.

Lt. Nate Lasseur, of West Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, was one of two Creole-speaking firefighters on the team. "The first night I was out all night looking for my grandfather," he said. "I got back to camp about 3 or 4 in the morning."

Lasseur said he found his grandfather alive. But Lasseur said he lost a cousin, and two children of cousins also perished.

Lt. Moews called the experience "life-changing". "We've all worked in the medical field. We've all come across deceased victims. But nothing will compare to what we saw, or smelled, or did, in Haiti."

Developer McKinney has a charity which has built 11 villages in Haiti. He said his group, the Caring House Project Foundation, planned to build three more settlements there this year, but will instead divert efforts to earthquake recovery.