LA County Fire Department team join search and rescue efforts in Japan

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Los Angeles County Fire Department urban search and rescue team members load US Agency for International Development supplies to be flown to Haiti in the aftermath of the magnitude-7 earthquake onto truck on Jan. 13, 2010 in Pacoima, California.

L.A. County Fire Battalion Chief David Stone is a member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue team, one of two U.S. teams that are trained and authorized to help in rescue missions abroad. The team arrived in Japan on March 13. He spoke with KPCC’s Alex Cohen about the devastation he’s seen so far.

Even after deployments in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and Haiti after the earthquake there, Stone is still awed by the devastation wrought by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami last week.

“Pictures and videos don't do justice, you have to stand there and look at it,” Stone said from Ofunato, Japan. “It's pretty awesome to see the power of nature.”

Over the past several days, Stone's witnessed houses uprooted, large ships dragged a mile inland, thousands of wrecked cars, 30 to 40 feet high debris piles and twisted steel.

The team has been working with the local government to conduct search and rescue missions.

“We'll go into an area where there's already been a surface sweep by the local officials and they'll give us some targets of areas where they don't have the expertise or the technical equipment,” said Stone.

The team also employs specially trained dogs that can pick up the live scent of trapped human beings. If the team finds a survivor, they employ listening devices to pinpoint his or her location.

Realizing the parallel dangers that Japan and Southern California share, Stone has already taken away some lessons from his experience.

"For us, education is the key point to the public, provide the warning system and then practice," said Stone.

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