Leading the charge from Malibu to Port au Prince
January 22, 2010
Battalion Chief Terry DeJournett commands the largest fire battalion in the Los Angeles County Fire Department, with 12 fire stations that cover the Santa Monica Mountains.
So what’s he doing in Haiti?
DeJournett, 55, is running the 72-person L.A. County urban search and rescue team that was rushed to Haiti last week in the wake of an earthquake that has left the nation in ruins. Already, the team has saved nine victims from the rubble, including three women buried under a collapsed Port-au-Prince apartment building and another who was pulled from the remains of a bank.
“The thing you get with Terry is defined leadership,” says Battalion Chief Thomas Ewald, who is directing from Pacoima the support of the Haiti mission. Ewald says DeJournett thrives as a tactical commander in the field.
The task force’s work has drawn international acclaim and attention, including a CNN interview (see below) Wednesday during which DeJournett praised the Haitian’s resiliency. “The fact that we are still making rescues,” he said, “shows the strength of the people here.”
Cathy DeJournett, his wife of 34 years, has taken comfort hearing her husband’s voice a few times during conference calls arranged by the department each night. “He’s enjoying being able to help people there so much,” she said. The family has two grown children.
The stress of having a firefighter spouse who travels to danger spots, Cathy said, “is something you get used to.” She said she draws confidence from the fact that “I know they are doing everything they can to take precautions.”
A 24-year County fire veteran, DeJournett joined the elite squad in 1991 and rotates the front-line leadership with a half dozen colleagues. He has traveled throughout the world. Less than two years ago, for example, he led a small rescue contingent to China following the Sichuan earthquake. On his return, he flew to Washington to receive congratulations from then-President George W. Bush. He also frequently travels abroad representing L.A. County and the U.S. in training missions in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.
Closer to home, DeJournett , who performed rescue work during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, leads firefighting teams in the hills above L.A. He directed the assault on a portion of the Station Fire last summer, as well as during the Malibu fire in 2007. Since 2006, he’s been the Battalion 5 chief, overseeing stations stretching from Westlake Village and Malibu to Topanga and Calabasas.
“He runs a tight ship,” said his boss, Assistant Chief Gary Burden. “When he is on the scene, he gets a lot of respect because of his experience.”
How long DeJournett’s team will stay in Haiti remains unclear.