Firefighters often perform a thankless job, watching over the wellbeing of the city, and leaping into harms way to save people they may never see again.
Children latch onto their superhero like qualities and strive to become the men and women who risk everything.
All of the firefighters I have ever spoken with are humble about their profession, many times saying, “It’s just part of my job.”
It seems like a simple solution to honor these men and women, but how do you chose a single one. The candidate would have to rise above his brethren and be a superhero to the superheroes. Jeff Buterbaugh is that man.
Jeff’s father describes him as wanting to be a firefighter his whole life, and he has molded his life to be just that. After graduating from Saugus High, he became an Emergency Medical Technician, before being picked up by L.A County Fire.
At 4 p.m. on January 12, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the country of Haiti.
Buterbaugh, as part of the elite group within the fire department known as the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, was on the ground in Haiti by 6 a.m. January 14, just 36 hours after the disaster.
He and his crew were one of the first responders to help the island nation, which was devastated by the quake.
“It was like a movie set where in certain areas every building was demolished,” Buterbaugh recalled when reaching the island. “We didn’t have any armed guards or anything, and we were driving through some really bad areas. They [Haitians] were lighting bonfires in protest, dragging bodies across the street and stacking them up so we couldn’t get through, we would hear gunshots. But the worst thing about going there was the smell, the smell of death in the air.”
Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Americas, and many of the buildings lack building codes, which is what led to the devastation after the quake. Haiti also lacks a strong infrastructure, according to Buterbaugh there is no emergency medical system, no transportation to hospitals, and lack of care facilities.
The USAR task force is comprised of a 72-member rescue team, including medical professionals, K-9’s, camera and sound operators, and heavy equipment operators. Buterbaugh is one of six medical specialists on the team.
On one rescue, Buterbaugh and his team were forced to dig for a victim using only hand tools. They dug through three stories of a fallen building to locate a 20 year-old victim.
“The building had just pancaked down trapping the student,” said Buterbaugh.
After hours of digging, heavy machinery arrived and the USAR was able to pull the man out from the rubble.
The lack of infrastructure forced the team to drive the man an hour to the nearest hospital where he was treated for only a broken ankle.
In their time in Haiti, the rescue team was able to save nine victims, build a number of tent hospitals, and also had the job of body recovery.
The quake was responsible for more than 222,500 deaths, and left more than 1.5 million people homeless.
“Haiti was an incredible experience, there was a lot of destruction and death and it put our USAR team to the test,” said Buterbaugh. “I’ve been on the team for five years and this was all of our training coming together. For the first week and a half it was 20 hour days of searching and rescuing.”
When he returned home, he and other servicemen were honored for their effort. Buterbaugh received the title of Firefighter of the Year from the Rotary Club of Lancaster West.
“I was just doing my job, but it’s nice to be recognized,” said Buterbaugh.