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Local firefighter returns from Japan

Pete Ramirez of Fire Station 82 was part of elite search-and-rescue team.

March 26, 2011|by Joe Piasecki

Los Angeles County Firefighter Specialist Anthony Ramirez — better known by his middle name, Pete — returned to work Saturday at Fire Station 82 in La Cañada Flintridge after taking part last week in search-and-rescue missions along the tsunami-devastated coastline of Japan.

Ramirez is a member of the elite California Task Force 2, one of only two wholly self-sufficient international disaster response teams in the country. The 74-member team of firefighters, doctors, paramedics, engineers, logisticians, hazmat technicians and other specialists carries tens of thousands of pounds of rescue and survival gear.

Ramirez, 42, and other team members spent six frigid days digging through rubble in Ofunato and Kamaishi City areas of Japan, an area about 300 miles north of Tokyo that was one of the hardest hit by the deadly tsunami along the island nation’s Eastern seaboard.
Like many of those only seeing pictures of Japan’s devastation from halfway around the world,

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Ramirez, who last year took part in CTF 2’s response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, was awestruck by signs of the massive wave’s deadly force.

One surreal moment included standing next to a large fishing vessel that had been tossed like a toy three-quarters of a mile inland — up a 30-foot grade — from Ofunato harbor.

“It was very strange, knowing how much power it took and how crazy it was for the boat to get up there,” said Ramirez, an Upland resident and father of two who has been a firefighter for nine years. “Housed floated away. Cars were on top of houses.”

CTF 2, its sister American task force from Fairfax, Va., and a British rescue team set up camp at an elementary school and worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day excavating layers of buildings and using high-tech cameras with two-way audio capability in the hopes of finding survivors in the rubble.

Despite these efforts, the teams were unable to find any survivors, but located the remains of six people. Ramirez, who will retire next month from the U.S. Army Reserves, attributed the limited number of victims in that area to residents’ quick response to tsunami alerts.

“The Japanese have a tsunami warning system and the people heeded it. That says volumes about the Japanese people. Everyone took to the hills,” said Ramirez.

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