Story, video and photos by Christopher Boffoli
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
As powerful aftershocks rumbled through central Chile today, closer to home, Seattle firefighters scrambled over a twisted pile of steel reinforced concrete and mangled cars.
Throughout the month of March, SFD is doing structural collapse training at their Joint Training Facility on Myers Way on the southeastern edge of West Seattle, part of their annual rescue training aimed at providing every city firefighter with the necessary skills to deal with what they may someday have to do here in Seattle.
Dana Vander Houwen, Public Information Officer for the Seattle Fire Department, told me today that even though the SFD actually has an excellent specialized technical rescue team, if a catastrophic event were to occur in Seattle they “would not be able to be everywhere.” So by broadening the training for firefighters, the entire department will have essential rescue skills.
The rubble pile being used this month was designed by Seattle firefighters who have training in engineering a rescue environment. It is reasonably realistic but still is generally structurally sound and safe for firefighters to train in. Though Vander Houwen added that part of the training does involve having the firefighters assess for themselves the structural safety of the scene, adding bracing or support where necessary. Adult and child-sized dummies are placed strategically in the rubble:
During the training, firefighters also must make decisions about locating victims, prioritizing patients based on the severity of injuries and the complexity of extraction, and developing strategies to remove the victims in a way that is safe for rescuers. Throughout the process they will use an arsenal of rescue tools, including various saws, the jaws of life, rescue baskets, ropes, etc. Vander Houwen says that each year the training is varied. But the simulated earthquake theme this year seems particularly relevant after powerful earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, as well as this week’s anniversary of Seattle’s Nisqually earthquake. Vander Houwen says this particular training scenario “is a way for firefighters to get hands-on training for an earthquake scenario or terrorist attack.”