On a Saturday, March 22, 2014, the small community of Oso, Washington State was covered 8 to 20 feet deep with dirt and debris after a massive hillside above the area cut lose and thundered down upon houses, cars and residents.
Reports were daunting for rescue personnel first on the scene. The viscous nature of the earth turned it to black oozing mud making it almost impassible on foot.
Highway 530 which ran along the river at the bottom of the hill was lost in the muck which actually flowed across the Stillaquamish River blocking its flow. The Corp of Engineers are working diligently to re-open the channel and prevent down river flooding.
Shortly after the catastrophe a number of people were rescued and sent to area hospitals with varying degrees of injuries. Since, then the search has escalated to as many as 800 rescuers and volunteers.
As news of the slide began appearing, there were many news reports of un-authorized volunteers sneaking into the dangerous and muddy slide areas attempting to find and rescue survivors.
Due to the extreme danger in the area, at first authorities were intercepting these volunteers, threatening them with arrest and even, in a few cases, detaining determined volunteers.
Then in a Seattle Times Newspaper article on March 26, 2014 the authorities made a surprising about-face. After reconsidering the situation they decided to authorize many of those same unofficial volunteers when they learned how capable those unofficial volunteers were.
“Right off the bat they should have had every one of the loggers here in there,” said Forrest Thompson 18 years of age who works for logging companies in town. “Climbing across logs and mud all day is what I do for a living.”
Crisis situations crystalize the thinking of those involved. Survivors will never forget the experience and first-responders may suffer delayed stress. It is safe to say that no one who lives in the area will drive the road again without reliving where they were a the time.
Watching the rescuer’s work 24/7 and without pay and sometimes without acknowledgment should make us all wonder what we are capable of. And maybe, just like Forrest Thompson, itâ€™s a good time to ask just exactly what it is we do for a living.
If you are not familiar with what a logger does in the woods, Thompson’s quote of “Climbing across logs and mud all day is what I do for a living” pretty much sums a very difficult job.
The areas they work in are not the nicely treed backyards or parks most of us think of. They are steep and dangerous mountain terrain that has often never been cut before. Danger is everywhere.
Can you imagine the physical and mental strength it takes to arise at 4 AM in the dark every morning, ride in a bus 2 hours, arrive at the work site where it is unbearably cold in winter and torturously hot in summer?
Could you trudge through mud all day jumping over logs sometime taller than yourself all while dragging heavy metal cables behind you? And after 8-10 hours of brutal work, you get to ride 2 hours home, collapse into bed only to get up the next morning at 4 AM to start again.
While silicone valley gets the press, and corporate workers get the perks it is loggers and hundreds of professions like them who actually make America work. It is refreshing to see even that small quote in the Seattle Times acknowledge that at least these people know exactly what it is they do for a living.
If you are a lawyer sitting at a desk are you an attorney, or do you help people right wrongs?
If you serve food in a restaurant are you a waiter or are you trying to make people happy?
If you work in a bank, are you counting money or protecting it for your customers?
To what extent would you go to perform you job? Could you call it – as young Thompson – “just what I do for a living?”
Luckily, most of us will never come face to face with situations as dire as those in Oso. But now is a good time to think ahead, decide what you would do in such situations and realize that in your own world, in your own job there is more you can do and people you can serve.
Thompson said that he has already marked several dead bodies and dug out at least one that authorities had extracted from the scene. He had also recovered family photo albums, jewelry and sentimental possessions from the debris.
A State Patrol spokesman acknowledged Tuesday that these area residents were well-equipped to aid in the effort because of their work in the local logging industry. Several used their dump trucks, tractors, trailers and other equipment to get through wreckage. “Frankly, their experience is highly valued.”