Santa Barbara County Fire Department captain talks about task force, which recently returned from embattled nation
A team of 11 volunteer firefighters — the Light Urban Search and Rescue Task Force — recently returned from spending three weeks in Ukraine, training Ukrainian firefighters in search-and-rescue operations.
The mission was sponsored by Goleta-based Direct Relief and Joint Project Guardian.
“They are much better prepared now and have received 150 hours of combat training and search and rescue, as well as (they’re now) working to implement standards procedures as we do in the United States,” Isaac Siegel, chief operating officer for Joint Project Guardian and a captain at Santa Barbara County Fire Department, told the News-Press.
The recent mission to Ukraine was entirely composed of volunteer firefighters and was not funded by the city or county of Santa Barbara. Joint Project Guardian is a nonprofit composed of volunteer firefighters.
When firefighters arrived in Ukraine, they were met by supplies donated from Direct Relief and fire departments across the country who donated firefighting gear and search-and-rescue equipment.
Equipment and supplies not making it to the front lines and getting tied up in warehouses due to lack of knowledge and training on how to use equipment properly was one of the biggest obstacles encountered, Capt. Siegel told the News-Press. “We actually delivered the supplies in person to the firefighters that needed them. We spent a week and half delivering equipment and getting to know our Ukrainian counterparts.
“It was part of 150 hours of training,” Capt. Siegel told the News-Press this week.
“It was very successful,” he said. “Our personnel did above and beyond what we planned for them to do. We searched over 100 buildings and recovered bodies, bringing closure to the families of the victims. We got fire stations back-up and operational and trained over 150 firefighters in the proper use of donated equipment as well as search and rescue.”
“The team was deployed north of Kyiv doing search and rescue with Ukrainian firefighters; it was hands-on training,” Capt. Siegel continued. “We were teaching firefighters how search and rescue works in the U.S. There was a lot of back and forth with learning how our procedures worked with their procedures, as well as incorporating equipment.”
The team partnered with fire departments in Irpin, Hostomel and Bucha.
“When the team came back, we did an after-action review, where we worked with partners and sponsors to understand what went right and what we needed to improve on. We plan to deploy a second mission of 10 in early July,” Capt. Siegel said. “We will employ all the lessons learned from the last deployment. Direct Relief will be a major partner, as it was with this mission.”