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Island firefighters join relief efforts - Battalion chief and lieutenant a part of the Hurricane Katrina emergency crews

By Ruth Longoria

Two Mercer Island firefighters are among the many caring individuals and relief organizations rushing to provide aid to the hurricane mangled southern states this past week.

Communications specialist Lieutenant John Bridenbaugh, who has been with the Mercer Island Fire Department since 1980, was deployed with the Disaster Medical Association Team (DMAT) shortly after Aug. 29, when Hurricane Katrina whipped across parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm left neighborhoods in rubble, dead bodies, water and debris covering major cities, and residents stranded on rooftops.

There has been no news from Bridenbaugh as to how he's doing or where he is working. He is expected back in about 10 days, said Mercer Island Fire Commander Walt Mauldin.

``The way things are down there is obviously horrendous, so it's natural that the communications aren't good,'' Mauldin said.

Battalion Chief Chris Tubbs left the Island last week on a bus bound for Houston, Texas, where he's expected to help deploy aid remotely to the cities where nature and looters have unleashed their fury. Tubbs was able to call Mauldin from Cheyenne, Wyo., Thursday night to check in and let him know how things are going so far. Tubbs, who is part of the federal relief efforts of FEMA's Urban Search & Rescue Teams, also is expected back from the disaster within the next few weeks, Mauldin said.

``They generally like to keep the workers about a week to 10 days, because anything longer than that isn't good for them.''

Tubbs and Bridenbaugh have extensive experience in disaster relief. Tubbs, who has received numerous awards for firefighter and Fire Officer of the Year during the 22 years he's been with the Mercer Island Fire Department, was deployed to Oklahoma City to assist with rescue and relief efforts after the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Bridenbaugh, who is a reservist with DMAT in addition to being a member of the FEMA USAR Team, assisted in giving aid to Californians devastated by the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake.

``These are excellent, well-trained firefighters,'' Mauldin said. ``If there's an award to be had, Chris has gotten it. Both of these guys are dedicated, long-term workers and always interested in helping others. They completely have a desire to help.''

Three other Island firefighters are standing by in case they are called up, as members of the FEMA USAR Teams: Company Officer Bob Barden, Battalion Chief Shawn Matheson and Firefighter Ken Knott. Mercer Island has the option to decline to sending people, if the firefighters are needed here. And, team members wouldn't likely be called up until after those currently deployed have returned home, Mauldin said.

``We're doing OK with two firefighters gone, and could probably handle a third, but we're under no obligation to send more than we can do without,'' he said. ``But, there is a benefit to us, in that (the firefighters) bring home a huge amount of training that we'd never be able to give them otherwise.''

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