Firefighters return from shuttle debris search

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(Host) Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service in Vermont and New Hampshire are home after two weeks of searching for debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia. The 20-person crew spent two weeks near Lufkin, Texas, searching for debris from the space shuttle, which broke up over the region last month.

Bradley Bernardy oversees the crew that volunteered for the search duty. He says teams of local, state and federal crews combed the rural landscape, looking for debris that may help accident investigators:

(Bernardy) “They had a swath that was 10 miles wide and about 250 miles long that they had to search. They were essentially spread out about 10-15 feet apart. And they had a person at the end with a compass shot, or a handheld GPS, that would keep them on a certain grid search line.”

(Host) The teams recovered about 70 pieces of shuttle debris during their two-week mission. The search crews were accompanied by a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency, who determined whether each piece of discovered debris posed a health hazard to the search teams.

In recent years, Forest Service firefighters have been called in to help with a range of disasters – from the search for shuttle debris, to the cleanup at the World Trade Center site. Bernardy says expertise in fighting wildfires can easily be applied to other emergency situations:

(Bernardy) “Because, really they’re almost the same type of setup: you’ve got a mission, you have some movement of people and equipment you have to do, and then you have other public affairs – everything from public affairs to catering services to portable showers, just to keep everything moving.”

(Host) Bernardy says forest service firefighters often have more practice at mobilizing for emergencies than local responders do.

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