Firefighters train to be technical rescue team

Saturday, October 22, 2005

In the event a gas explosion traps victims in a home, the Cape Girardeau Fire Department would be the first to respond.

Severe structural damage would prevent anyone from just walking through the front door and pulling each victim out. Interior floors could collapse onto lower levels and unstable walls could crumble. Hazardous materials could lurk due to the damage, and victims could be trapped under heavy debris.

Prior to this week, the fire department would have been unequipped. From Tuesday through Friday, firefighters trained for such a scenario at two homes on West End Boulevard and Broadway.

The department has invested about $45,000 of $200,000 from two grants through Missouri and the federal Homeland Security. They purchased specialized equipment, such as jackhammers, sensory devices and a diamond-bladed chain saw that cuts through concrete.

Sixteen firefighters are training to become the city's first technical rescue team. A couple of Jackson firefighters also participated. To prepare for the future, the two departments paired up to share Jackson's hazardous material resources and Cape Girardeau's technical rescue equipment.

On Friday, firefighters tore apart a sturdy brick home at 1310 Broadway, next to Hardee's. The tedious work lasted about three hours. The exercise was a culmination of three days of training in search and rescue, breach and break, shoring and medical assistance.

"These are the same techniques that people have been seeing on the news with Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and New Orleans," said assistant fire chief Mark Hasheider.

Two mock victims (mannequins) were trapped in the basement. One was one the second floor and another in the attic. Since the floors were caved in, the firefighters punched a hole into the front porch and entered the house from the basement. Firefighters had to drill a small hole into each wall and use a snake-eye camera detect heat signatures from victims and survey the debris. As they tore through walls and floors to enter each room, they had to take measurements and place several 4-by-4 beams of wood to stabilize the floors.

Firefighters tunnelled through imaginary debris to find victims in void spots, places that people climb into for security. Each victim challenged firefighters to move heavy objects and use rope techniques.

Capt. Bill Schneider of the Olathe, Kan. Fire Department was on scene to offer assistance. He explained how to use the equipment more methodically and quickly.

"In technical rescue, time is against our side," said Schneider, who has taught search and rescue for 11 years. Unstable structures are continually under stress, posing risks for further collapse and more injuries.

The nearest urban search and rescue teams are in St. Louis, Mo., Columbia, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo., Schneider said. Currently, Cape Girardeau, Kennett, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., are training teams.

Cape Girardeau has already finished the first phase of awareness training in search and rescue. The midlevel operations class introduces residential and basic structures, which firefighters learned this week. The technicians class, third phase, advances firefighters into managing heavier equipment, larger structures and metal cutting. The technicians class will likely begin after the start of 2006, said battalion chief Fred Vincel, who is in charge of training.

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