READY AND WAITING - Tucson Local Media: Import


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Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 11:00 pm

The black crepe of mourning bisected police badges and flags fluttered from fire trucks as emergency services workers throughout the Northwest agonized through the tragedy that befell the nation Sept.11.

The symbols of grief and patriotism were displayed for all who lost their lives, but it was the hundreds of firefighters, police officers and rescue personnel dead and missing that ran like a shock wave through the departments.

Quickly emerging from the pain and sadness of so many police officers and firefighters lost in the terror attacks was a sense of resolve, as the Oro Valley Police Department and fire departments throughout eastern Pima County mobilized to help in anyway they could.

A resource widely available among the local agencies, that sadly and most certainly will be in demand in New York and Washington, D.C., was for teams of crisis counselors trained specifically to deal with the stress and trauma expected to afflict rescuers working amid the carnage and suffering through the loss of co-workers.

Within hours of the attack, Golder Ranch Fire District, Northwest Fire and Rescue District and OVPD had crisis management teams on standby to help East Coast police and rescue personnel who were seeing and reliving the unthinkable in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

And while so far none of the teams have been deployed, they remain on call, eager to assist their "brothers and sisters" if and when the call comes.

"At this point, they estimate that more than 200 firefighters are missing or have died in New York," said Golder Ranch Public Information Officer John Sullivan."The fire service is a real close knit family and this has affected us all."

Golder Ranch, a small department with 65 employees, has its three-member crisis team on standby for both New York City and the Pentagon.

The department provided the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, a non-profit organization which coordinates crisis intervention teams, a list of its members and availability status Tuesday night after the huge loss of life became all too apparent.

"Our team could be deployed within the next couple of days or as long as the next couple weeks. You have to understand that the stress can range anywhere from immediate to a more cumulative effect that emerges later down the road," Sullivan said.

The larger Northwest Fire District has its 20-member Critical Incident Stress Management Team registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in case they are needed, Northwest Fire Chief Jeff Piechura said.

The multi-agency team is composed of fire fighters, police officers and paramedics from various Pima County agencies led by counselors specifically trained in the area of stress management for emergency workers.

Piechura said the team has never been deployed to a national crisis, but has been dispatched locally to counsel police officers and firefighters who have responded to traumatic scenes such as child drownings or fires with large death tolls.

Northwest, which has more than a hundred firefighters and paramedics in the district, also applied to FEMA to send a team of its firefighters to New York or the Pentagon in order to study rescue efforts and bring the knowledge gained home for use in Pima County.

Oro Valley Police Department's crisis team is also packed and ready to go if the call for assistance comes, said Bob Easton, head of the department's Office of Professional Development.

The five-member team would focus on police officers traumatized by the destruction and would include Easton, who joined OVPD in February after a 27-year career at the Tucson Police Department. Easton spent seven of those years as head of the Behavioral Science Unit that provides psychological services to TPD officers.

Other members of the OVPD team include a reserve OVPD officer who is also a psychologist, a Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, officer; a training officer, and an employee from OVPD's records department who would work with civilian employees of police agencies, Easton said.

As the crisis teams wait for deployment, almost all the departments in the Northwest are reaching out with fund raising to help the stricken fire and police departments back East.

Easton said OVPD was selected last week to be the agency to collect donations in Pima County for the Arizona chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, known popularly through its acronym COPS.

The national, non-profit organization offers emotional and financial assistance to families of police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The donations are expected to be delivered to New York City by COPS member Stacie Moritz, whose husband was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Flagstaff last year.

Moritz is suggesting items such as gift certificates from national department store and restaurant chains, telephone calling cards and toys for children would be needed most by families of police officers lost to the terrorism in New York.

Employees of Rural/Metro Fire Department and members of the Old Pueblo Firefighters Association were on medians, street corners and at shopping centers throughout the Northwest last weekend, collecting donations.

Rural/Metro Chief George Good said more than $85,000 was collected in two days.

"The support from the community was just overwhelming," Good said

Members of Golder Ranch Fire Department were expected to fan out across the Northwest Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 to collect donations for the families of New York City firefighters who died, Sullivan said.

Collection stations will be set up at the Bashas',Safeway and Fry's grocery stores in Oro Valley and several other locations around the Tucson area.

Golder Ranch will be joined in the fund drive by other Southern Arizona departments, including Tucson Fire Department and Northwest Fire District, Sullivan said.

Northwest Fire will be collecting donations Tuesday and Wednesday at the intersections of Orange Grove and Thornydale roads; La Cholla and Ruthrauff roads; Cortaro and Silverbell roads and Sandario Road and Interstate 10 at the Circle K store.

Marana Police Department had not planned any activities related to the Sept. 11 attacks, department spokesman Roberto Jimenez said.

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