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After China's quake, firemen rise to rescue task

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"This is a very large-scale disaster, and sometimes we feel we don't have the strength," she said. "But we have saved 221 people so far and we will continue to do our best. My men have disaster rescue experience and some of them have been trained in America and France. They know how to save people."

Xiao Wei, a 28-year-old who joined the local fire brigade 10 years ago after a stint in the Army, was among the 80 or so firemen working at the site of the collapsed hospital.

Mr. Xiao was on vacation at his parents' place, 10 miles from Dujiangyan, last Monday afternoon when he got the call. When he found his fire brigade, his heart sank; the building where they were working was the building in which he had lived. Somewhere under the rubble, he soon learned, his mother-in-law lay buried.

His particular team, however, was assigned to work at another site. "I really wanted to work on my apartment block," he said. "But I haven't asked to. My brigade has its task and we can't change it. We have to focus on the general picture."

Since reporting for duty on Monday, Xiao said, he had slept for just three hours, grabbing a nap in a car. He is not alone. "None of us have slept for more than a few hours," said Sun.

Instead, he and his men have been using trained rescue dogs, microphones, miniature cameras, and reports from survivors to try to locate people still alive.

By Thursday afternoon, Sun said, they had rescued seven people at the hospital site. They had also found 13 bodies, but many more remain beneath the 30-foot pile of concrete, brick, and plaster, as the slight odor of putrefaction hanging over the site testifies.

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