St. George firefighters train to be ‘first in’ during structural collapse

ST. GEORGE — When disaster strikes, the community relies on first responders to be there regardless of the nature of the emergency. The St. George Fire Department recently conducted a training exercise to ensure a well-trained crew responds when a rescue operation involves a collapsed building.

St. George firefighters cutting a hole through concrete during collapsed structure training, St. George, Utah, Nov. 7, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the St. George Fire Department, St. George News

For fire department personnel, hands-on training prepares crews for real-life scenarios and allows for the development of the skills needed to be a safe and effective rescuer  — particularly if someone is trapped inside a collapsed building where every minute counts.

Last week, St. George firefighters focused on structural-collapsed building rescue in their monthly specialized training exercise.

Firefighters trained on how to save a victim trapped underneath or behind concrete, as well as metal-cutting operations and heavy lifting and moving. They also worked on “cribbing,” where a simple temporary structure is used to transfer the weight of a load during rescue operations.

Firefighters attend regular training exercises for general firefighting and rescue functions, as well as monthly training events that focus on various disciplines their particular position entails including trench, confined space, entrapment and collapsed building rescues, St. George Fire Battalion Chief Darren Imlay said.

The monthly training exercises are required for certification purposes and for fire technicians who specialize in a particular disciplines that require a higher level of proficiency and teamwork than others.

Imlay said these specialized training exercises are important to ensure firefighters are well trained and properly equipped to handle any type of emergency situation, regardless of how often that particular scenario will present itself in the real world.

“The community has an expectation that no matter what happens, the fire department can handle it,” he said.

Firefighters creating a temporary “cribbing” structure to transfer weight of a load in a mock rescue operation during collapsed structure training, St. George, Utah, Nov. 7, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the St. George Fire Department, St. George News

The training exercise was facilitated by fire captains Coty Chadburn and Tyler Talbot and reserve firefighter Lee Cabell, who completed a  FEMA Structural Collapse Technician course — an 80-hour program that takes place over the course of eight days in Salt Lake City. The course is developed by structural engineers and experts in assessing and mitigating various types of collapses in all building types to facilitate search and rescue operations.

Firefighters attending the collapsed building training only do so after they have completed a series of lower-level technical training events, as the various disciplines build upon one another. Techniques used in confined space or rope rescues are also incorporated into structural collapse training scenarios, and the more basic rescue exercises must be completed before a firefighter is eligible for any advanced training.

There are also specialized tools and equipment used in rescue operations that require training as well, Imlay said.

In a scenario where there is a concrete barrier between rescue personnel and potential victims, it is important to identify what is behind the concrete barrier. This is done by drilling a hole using specialized equipment designed to breach concrete reinforced by rebar, then inserting a camera to identify what is beyond the concrete wall.

The kit is also equipped with a microphone, speaker and a seismic meter that can detect even the smallest movement or vibration “like someone tapping on the wall to alert responders they are trapped inside,” he said.

A well-trained crew is vital, as Hildale/Colorado City Fire Chief Kevin Barlow told St. George News. He said two of his firefighters also went to the FEMA collapsed structure training held in Salt Lake City, primarily due to the fact Hildale is in an area known as “earthquake country.”

Barlow said the training helps in any scenario that involves someone becoming trapped in a collapsed structure, whether it’s due to an earthquake or a situation where a car crashes into a building and causes it to collapse with someone trapped inside.

“Regardless, it is important that our crews are trained to handle those types of situations,” he said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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