September 28, 2005
Kristi Seargeant isn’t just a supermom, she’s a superheroine – and a pretty good law student to boot. The McGeorge student, Sacramento City Fire Department battalion chief and mother of two returned to her studies recently after 17 days spent rescuing stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina in flooded New Orleans.
Seargeant was the co-leader of a 14-member Sacramento area Urban Search & Rescue water team that was called in by the federal government following the catastrophic hurricane’s landfall. She was the only woman in the elite rescue unit that performed heroically in the devastated Louisiana metropolis. “We got the call the evening the levees broke and less than 30 hours later (August 31) we were on a giant C-5 transport flying out of Travis Air Force Base with three inflatable boats and the rest of our equipment.” Seargeant said.
The scene that awaited Seargeant and her group was one of the most surreal in modern American history. “The people left behind were those too poor to leave the area before the hurricane hit,” said Seargeant. “People were trapped on small islands of land and knee-deep water, desperate for the basic human services. I hadn’t seen that level of urban poverty and widespread destruction. I kept asking myself, ‘Is this America?’ ”
It was not the first time Seargeant bore witness to American history. She spent 11 days in New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks with her team, searching unsuccessfully through fallen buildings for survivors of that cataclysm. Seargeant described driving by the Superdome each day and the throng of newly homeless people stranded inside and out. “There were thousands of people, including kids and babies along the side of the road with no food, no water, no shade and no toilets. It was 105 degrees with 85 percent humidity,” she said.
The California teams rescued approximately 650 people, the bulk of them in the first few days. Seargeant’s team wrecked each of their three boats on fence tops and debris hidden by the flood. They borrowed more equipment and commandeered other water craft. “By Day 5, things were a lot better,” Seargeant said. “But there were no rest days and the long, 14-hour days really took a lot out of our guys.”
Seargeant returned to the McGeorge campus on September 19. The fourth-year Evening Division student, who ranks in the top quarter of her class, found out she had made the law school’s Mock Trial Competition Team. “I was pleasantly surprised, but more interested in catching up with my classes. I had brought along my Remedies book, but didn’t find time to read it until my flight home,” she said. “Fortunately, Dean (Carin) Crain had arranged to tape my classes and my classmates saved and shared all their notes with me. But I still have a lot of catching up to do.”
Seargeant also had some catching up to do at home where her husband and two small children are used to her 24-hour shifts at the busy Oak Park Fire Station and the endless emergencies that impact the life of a firefighter. What’s in mom’s future? “A normal legal job might be nice,” Seargeant says. “I’m interested in public safety employment law, proactive and preventative uses of the law, litigation.” Needless to say, the thought of 60-hour workweeks and large billable hour requirements don’t faze this woman.