Local firefighter returns after helping in Oso cleanup

Local firefighter returns after helping in Oso cleanup »Play Video
RICHLAND, Wash. -- A local fire captain just returned from helping with relief efforts at the Oso mudslide.

He spent two weeks at the disaster site and shared his experience.

"We may not find them all. There's no guarantee that we'll find them all," says Capt. Darrin Henderson.

He got the call to help just hours after the hillside gave way near Arlington. He is part of a statewide response team that's always on call in case of a disaster.

Capt. Henderson knew it would be a life-changing experience.

"For me personally, I was kind of torn. It's a very large natural disaster that a lot of people lost their lives. On the other side, it was a great learning experience. That's something I can bring back to my department and into our community."

Capt. Henderson has seen a lot of emergencies in his 15 years with Benton County's Fire District #1. But 14 days in the mudslide zone was a first. He helped keep track of areas that had been searched, so those actually in the mud knew where to look next for victims.

"We were working with urban search and rescue teams and cadaver dogs. So we had to change our methods and procedures to facilitate what they needed," he says.

The captain took photos of his experience. They will help in the future to process everything he saw.

"It still hasn't really sank in. I've talked to people and they've asked me, 'What is it like?' And I really can't put into words what it was or what it is," he said. "The biggest thing that struck me when I was there is everything is gray. The color of the ground. There's so much gray, and the clay is everywhere."

He says there's still a substantial amount of work to be done as crews work to find the last few bodies. Up to seven people are still listed as missing. 36 are identified as dead.

Captain Henderson says he's ready for the call to help, no matter when it comes and for what disaster.

"I think if you asked any of us, it's part of our job. It's who we are. We're nothing special," he says.

Five volunteer firefighters from our area are still in Oso. They are working to locate any remaining victims and also working to reopen the road.

President Obama is scheduled to visit the scene next week.