Background: On Sept. 16 2001 The Director of Operations for Rescue International received a call from the Lieutenant in charge of the NYPD canine unit. He called because of previous conversations and offers earlier during the week to provide cadaver dogs when needed, the Lt. asked if it was possible to get cadaver dogs to work the Fresh Kill Landfill in Staten Island. He advised that they had a good supply of dogs working ground zero but needed some to handle a request that had been waiting, for dogs at the landfill. Issues of having non law enforcement dogs working at the site, as it was considered a crime scene had to be address with the FBI and other agencies. After a few hours a second call was received with approval of all parties to have the volunteer dog/handlers respond.
By late Sunday afternoon RI responded with a team of four cadaver dogs and handlers from Northeast SAR and The SE PA Specialty Dog Unit with them was a small overhead team d RI's Response Truck and Disaster Response Trailer staffed by members of Northeast SAR and a second Disaster Response Trailer and support members from the East Penn SAR team. The first unit of the Task Force's Response arrived Sunday evening at the Freshkill Landfill.
Conditions: The landfill site was a few hundred acres with many dozens of piles of rubble from the trade center. It was an eerie site as we came across the Verizono bridge, we could see all the portable light towers on top of the only hill around. In fact it was not a hill but one of the largest piles of garbage in the country. The landfill had only been closed a few months. As we entered the site we were greeted with the smell of the landfill, something that we all grew to live with. The National Guard was set up to help support the operation with tents, generators, manpower and a canteen. As we pulled in we saw the work area, I think everyone thought to themselves what are we in for? Can the dogs work with all this going on around them? We found out quickly they can.
Search fields at Freshkill Landfill
Four areas were set up were the trucks dumped their loads. A dozer or backhoe then spread out the load over the ground so it was only 12-18" tall. Then a few dozen white suited officers started to pick thru the rubble looking for the Black Boxes, any possible clues and any human remains. The site was being monitored for Haz-Mat and the major concern was the asbestos. All persons working the fields had to have full protective suites and respirators.
Conversations about the use of the dogs and how the hazards may effect them resulted in a decision that they can handle it much better than we can and that the levels of asbestos were very low and at many times below human danger levels. This was an on going monitored concern for both dogs and the workers.
The Assignment: On arrival to the landfill the Task Force Coordinator Bruce Barton reported to the NYPD command post. The NYPD had been finding about a 6-12 human remains per 12 hour shift. It was correctly felt that cadaver dogs could find many more body parts than the eyes of the workers.
By late Sunday night three dogs were working shifts at the site and finding numerous body parts. Over 100 items were found in the first 14 hours. Only 8 parts had been found in the12 hour shift before, using only the eyes of searchers.
Handlers were briefed in the use of the protective gear and a system to check the rubble was developed by Bruce and the handlers. A pop up tent was placed next to the fields and equipped with a table, dry erase boards, satellite phone provided by Motient , a Davis electronic weather station and ICOM two-way radios. Handlers worked shifts of 1 hour on and 1 hour off, with the final decision on working longer or shorter shifts up to the handlers. All dogs were to be on lead for safety. Dozens of dozers, backhoes and dump trucks worked the area along with a hundred and fifty plus officers in white Tyvek suites and masks.
The next day a meeting with the Incident Commander resulted in a request to keep the effort going 24/7 for as long as a few months if possible? Bruce then went about the non-stop effort to bring in dozens of dog teams and support personnel. In all over 60 dogs and 300 plus people were brought in over the two weeks the task force was in operation. The Base of Operation was expanded over the next few days and was moved three times during the two week stay.
CRTF Base of Operation
Now how do you find dozens of trained experienced cadaver dogs. A call for more dogs started to go out to select teams and state groups. Not only did we need the dogs and handlers but every dog team working the pile needed to have one or two support people to handle the body parts, plus we needed the support people to do the remains tracking, decontamination of the dogs, set up and maintain the base camp. An overhead team for each 12 hour shift was needed to keep track of the activities and a logistics team in NYC and PA worked to keep the shifts manned and equipped.
Donations of supplies from around the country came in to support the dogs. The NYPD provided meals in cooperation with the Red Cross and the National Guard. Ez-Up donated tents, Go America provided wireless computer service and ARCH Wireless provided two-way pagers for team leaders. Tempo Distributors provide use of a photo ID system to make ID's for many the 300 team members.
As we expanded the operation we heard from the NYPD K9 unit that the American Humane Association had it's Animal Rescue Truck in the city and it had been released from ground zero. A call to the AHA got us instant confirmation that the truck was on it's way back to NYC. The AHA - Animal Planet Rescue truck arrived Sept 26. This unique truck and trailer was an answer to our prayers for a way to better de-contaminate the dogs and support the logistic operation.
At the same time the Department of Health's Veterinarian Medical Assistance Team sent in shifts of Veterinarians and technicians to staff the Canine Recovery Task Force's operation 24/7. This allowed pre and post shift physical checks of the dogs. Provided instant treatment of the minor injuries that occurred and with the aid of the AHA staff all canines were decontaminated in a tent with warm water in a tub. Before the AHA arrival decon was done with a small propane camper hot water heater supplied from a drum of water out in the open.
Animal Planet Rescue sets up at landfill VMAT Vet checks dog Dog gets a warm Decon bath
This type of support unit on a smaller scale has been identified as a priority need for Rescue International's supported responses and trainings. As a result of lessons learned RI has started a Canine Support Fund to obtain and equip a 26 foot canine support and de-con trailer.
American Human Association Rescue Trailer
The Finds: The dogs were very effective. Some dogs were better that others but everyone gave it their all. Items as small as a quarter to as large as a leg were found. Most of what the TF searched had be screened at Ground Zero loaded and reloaded up to four times and then looked at by dozens of sifters. With all that already done the canines still found over 500 items for identification. Working with the DMORT teams doctors many handlers received advanced on-the-job training in the identification of human remains.
A few handlers arrived on site and after a short time decided that the job was not for them and left. Some handlers worked a few hours and then pulled their dogs off the line as they were not working very well. A lot of on-the-job training or re-training was done to get their dogs to understand what we were looking for. Cadaver is not always cadaver. The way a dog was trained effected how well the dogs worked. Many dogs trained for very funky smelly stuff blew by a lot of the less than week old items. A short introduction to the real stuff solved that problem for most dogs.
Training aids were on site to allow rewards, to test some less experienced dogs and to make them feel better about the surroundings by getting a quick find.
Shut Down: On Saturday September 30th the Task Force received word from the NY City Office of Emergency Management that we were to shut down and pack up. FEMA and OEM had now taken a more direct roll as they were paying the bills. The official reason was that a new system of conveyers and automated sifters was to be used that was not conducive to working with the dogs. Later they released the reason that dogs were not being used due to health concerns of the dogs. This was never discussed with us or our veterinarians. Attempts to return to help have failed.
We have all learned a lot at the expense of so many others. God bless the ones we have lost, their families and the those now protecting us every day. My hat goes off too the NYPD, FBI, National Guard, and the NYC Sanitation Dept. for making an impossible job at the landfill work so well and for treating all of the CRTF members like the professionals they were.
Coordinator RI CRTF WTC-SI
We wish to thank all the Handlers and Support Personnel
that responded to our request for help.
A special thanks to the following: Northeast SAR, East Penn SAR, Southeastern PA Specialty Dog Unit, MARSAR, WEST, NJ SAR, West Jersey K9, RAMAPO SARD, Palisades SARD, BRASDA, VMAT staff and the guys from the American Humane Association.. The NY, NJ, and PA SAR Councils and their members.
Thank You To All Our Sponsors and all that donated items and
Ruffwear, NUPRO Supplements, ZODI portable water heaters.
Donations are still being accepted to cover expenses for
our Canine Support Trailer
Any questions E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Canine Recovery Task Force has been formed into a permanent response capability for the country, for more information or to apply for membership e-mail email@example.com