Rescue units prepare for disasters

June 09, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

It may have appeared that three houses on Dual Highway had been hit by tornadoes, bombs or misguided backhoes Sunday, but the members of Hagerstown and Washington County fire and rescue companies who responded to the scene were just practicing for the real thing.

John Bentley, chief of the Washington County Special Operations Team, said three houses in the 1900 block of Dual Highway across the street from the Four Points Sheraton Hotel were donated by property owners AC&T for use by the group to practice with new equipment designed for locating victims under piles of rubble.

Bentley said about 30 percent of the city's and county's fire and rescue workers volunteered to practice rescuing "victims" Saturday and Sunday at the training grounds.


The crews used some pieces of new equipment purchased for the county, funded through the federal Domestic Preparedness grant, to assist in the training.

At one house, a $15,000, 8-foot-long device that looks like a metal detector was inserted in a hole in the first floor. A camera and light at the submerged end of the device showed rescue workers an image of a "victim" so they were able to figure out the best way to rescue him.

The "victim" was a plumber who was working in the crawl space beneath the first floor of the house when a contractor digging next to the structure accidentally ran his backhoe into it. When the backhoe tried to move out of the house, it caused rubble to bury the "victim" in the crawl space, Special Operations Lt. Randy Gaver said.

"These types of incidents are labor-intensive. It takes hours to get stuff done," Gaver said.

He said the crew first must secure the walls around the collapse, then cut a small hole into the ground where the victim is so the crew, using the new camera device, can see the victim and determine what type of medical care he or she will need.

In another house, crews were using a $9,000 life-detector device to locate people buried under rubble. The device can detect vibrations made by people yelling or tapping under the rubble.

"We are getting some serious training on how the structure relates to a building collapse," said John Crist, a career firefighter with the City of Hagerstown.

The serious training came for the crew Saturday when the special operations unit received a real call about a basement that collapsed on Taylors Landing Road in Fairplay. Bentley said everyone who was training on Dual Highway Saturday went to the scene. The crew shored up the home's basement so it would be safe until the family found a contractor to repair the damage, Bentley said.

"(Saturday's) call proved we have a good skills base," Crist said.

The Herald-Mail Articles