Durham Fire Chief details experience with elite rescue team deployed to Turkey

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Fire chief talks Turkey and search and rescue experiences
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Fire chief talks Turkey and search and rescue experiences

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a fight against time as rescue teams work to find survivors buried underneath collapsed buildings following a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria.

The heartbreaking images of children pulled from the rubble and pleas for help aren't new to Durham Fire Chief, Robert Zoldos.

He was a former member of USA Task Force One, a highly elite heavy search and rescue team that's been deployed to Turkey to help in the relief efforts. "If there's a life to be saved, they're gonna be able to do it," said Zoldos.

The team of about 79 people including doctors, specialists, engineers, and six canines should arrive early Wednesday morning. The team is described as self-sufficient bringing in their own water, food, and other supplies.

"The team is designed to work up to a couple of weeks without resupply three, three days without anything brought in water food. After that they have to get some sort of logistical resupply," he explained.

Once on the ground they're ready to work.

"The hardest part is finding people that are trapped and still alive. Most of the rescues that were made back when I was on the team and I went to Turkey in 1999, for the Izmit earthquake, where people ran up to us grabbed our sleeves, and said, there's someone in here, and we made four live rescues. And back then that was a very big deal," said Zoldos as he reflected on past missions.

Chief Zoldos hopes this team will have more success, but points to some of the challenges they could experience. He shared what happened during a search and rescue effort in the catastrophic earthquake that hit Izmit in 1999.

"The whole building kept shifting while we were in there. In fact, one of the rescue specialists with me had to back out at one point because his helmet got stuck. And we find out why the building was settling, and actually started to squish his head a little bit."

But the risks are worth the reward. In this case, that reward are lives saved. "We were doing great things and making really good rescues. And those families are together now because of it," he continued.

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