HILDALE, Utah -- In Utah, there is a special group of first responders called Utah Task Force One. It is only one of 28 such task forces in the country.
They were in New York following the September 11 attacks, they were in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and this past week they were in Hildale following the deadly flash flooding. On Sunday, they returned home to Salt Lake City.
“These types of deployments never get any easier, you’re away from your family, you are in a condition that’s uncomfortable to you," said Wade Russell.
Russell was one of 24 members of Utah Task Force One to be deployed to Hildale. Their mission was to search for and recover a missing 6-year-old boy lost during severe flash flooding.
“We are all fathers and mothers and have families of our own, so to be able to help out and bring closure to that family is something we felt very good," Russell said.
The task force is made up of firefighters and paramedics from Salt Lake City, Park City and Unified fire agencies, who spend an average of 7,000 hours a year training for these exact situations. For four straight days they trekked through hazardous, challenging conditions, looking for this final victim.
“A lot of muddy, sandy soil, so the first couple of days it was really rough going for us," Russel said. "A lot of our personnel were sinking fairly deep into the mud up to their knees, up to their shins."
These brave men and women worked 16-hour days, covering anywhere from 6 to 12 miles a day.
“You have to work together as a team, and it keeps our spirits up high because we are in a disaster area," said Tyler Lintz, who is also a member of Utah Task Force One. “We were in the river ravine, and we had to search through a lot of brush, a lot of thick trees, we had to take our time with a lot of detail-oriented searches, everything was very thorough and methodical."
There were no hotel rooms for this bunch. Their entire operation is designed to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours, relying on the local community for nothing but support.
“We were able to get a local high school gymnasium that we slept in, so that was really nice, but if it didn’t work out we would have slept in tents," Russell said.
The task force did not find the boy, who remains missing. However, they did return proud, knowing they did all they could for a Utah community in need.
“That’s our goal, that’s our mission that we strive to achieve, but the reality is sometimes we can’t achieve our mission, but we are going to try our hardest to make it happen," Lintz said.