Schaff is battalion chief of Virginia Task Force 1, Fairfax County's search and rescue team, which he welcomed back on Tuesday from New Jersey and New York, where the group was helping storm victims. Schaff lives in Loudoun County and, like many members of his team, is a firefighter and paramedic.
What did your battalion do up in New Jersey?
They were deployed Oct. 28 to Fort Dix, N.J., in support of Hurricane Sandy. They worked in areas called Little Ferry and Moonachie. One of the levies broke in the Little Ferry area, and when that broke, the team was sent there to help people evacuate and make rescues from that area submerged in water. That's what they did the first couple days, and following that mission's completion, they were sent on a humanitarian mission to Staten Island to search the neighborhoods and make sure people had been able to evacuate, as well as hand out food and water to some of the people in need up there.
What goes through your mind in a water rescue mission?
We train a lot in the county for these type of events for a local response. So going domestic or overseas, as we did for the tsunami in Japan, is the same type of training. We take our own equipment with us, so we're familiar with it. So it's really second nature for the firefighters. It just happens to be a different state or foreign country.
What did your team members say when they came back?
Some of them compared it to what Hurricane Katrina had done with the amount of devastation. For the new members -- we did send 12 new task force members -- some of the feedback from them was that they were surprised at how much damage could be done in such a short period of time.