61 local rescue workers went to the Gulf Coast after the hurricane struck. Many of them spent over two weeks searching for survivors.
"It was like going to graduate school for emergencies."
Ed Vasques is Chief of Special Operations for the Sacramento City Fire Department and part of the Incident Support Team which coordinated rescue efforts in New Orleans.
"You could learn so much there that you can’t pick up by reading a book. And you then can take it and determine how our current system would have functioned under the same circumstances."
During a ceremony Tuesday in the Firefighter Training facility at the former McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui honored members of the Swiftwater Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue teams for their efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
One of those honored was search and rescue team member Rick Lee who was deployed to Gulfport, Mississippi. He says the devastation was unbelievable.
"It’s like taking Elk Grove, all the homes there and all the things people have in their homes and just put it in a blender and then just mixing it up and dumping it on the ground and that’s really the kind of terrain that we were faced with. But the team did a great job I think and the dogs did too."
The search and rescue team has four dogs – including Dusty, an 11 year old golden retriever. The dogs use their sense of smell to save victims.
Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Chief Rick Martinez – who led rescue efforts in Mississippi – says one of the key lessons they learned from working in the Gulf Coast is to improve the current evacuation plan here in Sacramento.
"Just this morning driving in, whether you came in on 50 or 80 you found tremendous traffic jams on a regular day. Imagine if you’re trying to evacuate a couple hundred thousand people, imagine if the roads were further compromised by some earthquake or flood. So those are the type of things that we have to prepare our communities for is to be more self suficient, to be even better prepared."
Rescue team leaders say they’re continually meeting with Sacramento area law enforcement officials to improve evacuation procedures and other emergency preparedness efforts.