It was a massive mudslide that swept through a small community in Washington state back in March, and a local firefighter was part of the search crew.
Two people are still missing more than a month since a deadly mudslide killed at least four people in Washington state.
Active search operations for possible survivors ended Monday night as workers continue to remove debris from the small town of Oso.
Jacksonville firefighter Captain John Long is also a canine search specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As rescuers continued searching for survivors in Washington state, FEMA called Long for help with recovering the dead.
Long got the call on a Saturday night, and he and his dog Wally were on a plane the next morning.
“Passenger sitting right beside you -- Wally sitting on the floor between your feet,” said Long. “So you can imagine how much room we had for five hours from Atlanta to Seattle.”
But crews, combing the ground for mudslide survivors and bodies in Washington needed a fresh set of senses in the search.
“When we got there, it was late into the event but they were needing us to look for more people,” said Long.
In all, 41 bodies were recovered. The mudslide buried a square mile in the rural community of Oso.
Captain Long and Wally teamed up with a New York police officer and his dog, Brutus. Together, the four covered ground that other search dogs couldn’t.
“Fuel and oil everywhere. Never mind the biological problem, but houses that come down and trees, and just glass and cars – all these types of things,” said Long. “These dogs are trained to go right through that and continue to work.”
The work was treacherous at times and nothing like the solid ground Wally loves -- the two often sinking, while trying to walk in the mud.
And every night, Wally would have be decontaminated which caused dehydration.
The last site the two searched, Wally picked up a scent -- sending a group of rescuers scrambling their way.
“They actually looked in an area that we looked at because they found the wedding picture of the person we were looking for,” said Long. “They spent a lot of time in that area. Not sure if they found anything – that was the day we left.”
Long wanted to stay longer and help, but their mission was over. The search in rural Oso officially ended four days later.
“It was a great experience,” said Long. “(I) bring home a lot of lessons that we learned there.”
Captain Long said one of the most amazing experiences was something many saw during the recovery efforts in New York during 9/11. When a body was found, Captain Long said horns would blow and all work would stop -- giving respect to the dead until the body was taken away from the area.