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always ready for the call: utah task force 1
04-26-241 min read
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What do the Maui fires, 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquakes, and Surfside Collapse in South Florida have in common? The canines of Utah Task Force 1 have been there for them all.

Words by Gabriel Ramirez, Utah Task Force 1

We’re Utah Task Force 1, one of 28 national Urban Search & Rescue response teams. These teams, or Task Forces, operate under FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Department of Homeland Security. All 28 Task Forces are sponsored by a local agency, typically a fire agency; ours is hosted by the Unified Fire Authority.

Search canines are one of nineteen total functions that each Task Force provides to their local and national communities. Task Forces provide urban search and rescue/recovery capabilities such as search, rescue, technical, and medical teams. A Task Force is designed to be self-sufficient and able to respond to disasters quickly. Being a member is completely voluntary and while we are compensated for a deployment, members are not paid to be on a Task Force.

We have a combination of canines that have been raised as puppies by our handlers, as well as canines that have been trained through an amazing organization called the National Search Dog Foundation, who then are paired with handlers. Training is lifelong for search canines, but typically it takes around 2 years of initial training for a canine team to achieve FEMA certification. Whether they come from SDF or are trained by the handler, it takes a village to get a canine team certified.

This particular scenario was a building/structure search. Although our teams train for collapsed structures from disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, and floods, we can also be called upon to clear seemingly undamaged structures. Getting deployed to look for a missing person like a runaway child is another example. Search canines use their incredible sense of smell to locate missing people and the way odor behaves in structures is very complex due to HVAC systems, windows that act as greenhouses, etc. As disaster environments can vary greatly, we must expose our canines to any and every environment possible for them to be ready for real-world deployments. Some of the most recent deployments have included the recent Maui fires, the Oregon fires in 2020, and the Oso landslide in 2014. All of those unfortunate events lead us to structure our training so we’re always ready for the next call.

To learn more about Utah Task Force 1, including how to volunteer, visit https://www.uttf1.org/.
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