By Tim Ernst, President & Firefighter Flourtown Fire Company
January 6, 2008
The scenario was modeled after building collapses that take place all over the world everyday. It used technology developed after 9/11 and Oklahoma City that allow rescuers the time needed to make progress in this type of emergency and learn what needs to be done. The training scenario involved two victims trapped in a three story building where the second floor partially collapsed onto the first and the third floor completely “pancaking” onto the second. In the end it would take over 50 firefighters, over five hours with hundreds of feet of air hoses, ropes, and many air packs to rescue both victims and it all took place in a 20-foot trailer in the parking lot of Flourtown Fire Company on Sunday.
Personal Protection Equipment Specialists, Inc. from Lincoln University, PA provided the confined space/building collapse trailer to Flourtown, Wyndmoor, Oreland, Wissahickon, Fort Washington, Green Lane fire companies and Springfield Ambulance. The drill began with each firefighter getting their blood pressure and pulse checked by Springfield Ambulance personnel to set a base line. Then after the teams of two or four firefighters donned self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and entered the darkened maze of tilting floors, shifting building debris, wires, and obstacles, where they removed the debris and brought in shoring equipment to inch their way to the victims – their vitals were checked again upon exiting the trailer. According to Chief George Wilmot, III of Flourtown, “We organized the fire companies and ambulance squads as we would in a real emergency and we learned a lot today. It was nice to work together with all the other companies and work side-by-side with their personnel and equipment. The lessons learned today in training will help us acquire the equipment and training needed to further strengthen our response.”
After 22 teams of firefighters had entered the simulator and five hours of crawling on hands and knees through the pitch black maze the two victims were reached, their “injuries” assessed and they were packaged up and removed from the collapse zone. “It really opened our eyes to how many firefighters it takes in such a situation, we had over 100 firefighters here today and for each one that went in, it took 8 to 12 outside supporting them,” said Robin Liberty a firefighter with Flourtown Fire Company. Wilmot concluded, “By assessing the vitals of each firefighter and recording the amount of time they could stay in the hazardous environment on a regular SCBA bottle we learned a great deal about our capabilities. Each company promised to share their photos and videos from today and critique their performance. Everyone I’ve talked to enjoyed the training today, it was a long day, but well worth it.”