Emergency crews turn demolished Hilton Head station into a training bonanza

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Emergency crews turn demolished Hilton Head station into a training bonanza

Published Tuesday, November 2, 2010   |  493 Words  |  

As tornado-force winds whipped through Hilton Head Island's Fire Station No. 1 late one night, downing huge oaks and rousing sleeping firefighters, one panicked crew member threw his pickup into drive and accidentally plowed into the side of the building.

Moments later, as the 30-year-old building's second story collapsed, the rest of the station's 25 occupants were trapped under a mass of twisted steel, wood and cinder block.

Or at least that isthe scenario members of the state's Regional Response Team 4 have been presented with during an annual urban search and rescue training this week at the site of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division's Station No. 1 in Shipyard Plantation.

The station, which was demolished and is being used to simulate a building collapse, will help Response Team 4 -- made up of Hilton Head and Bluffton firefighters -- practice search-and-rescue operations, said Joheida Fister, a division spokeswoman.

Before the building's collapse, officials placed 26 dummies inside, giving rescue crews a chance to practice skills this week they don't get a chance to use during routine calls.

The training tests alerting and deployment of the teams, structural shoring, breaching and breaking, heavy cutting, heavy lifting, and moving. Each team will work 12-hour shifts throughout the week to simulate the response to a structural collapse and work to find the 26 people trapped inside, she said.

"The victims were placed in normal spots in the building, and when it collapsed, they ended up trapped in odd places," said Ben Waller, the division's training chief. "If there's not a door where we want one, we make one. It's really about finding ways to improve and problem-solving."

The training is part of annual, statewide readiness tests, which evaluate regional response teams on their ability to assess the disaster and solve the problem, he said.

Other departments training on Hilton Head Island include Burton's Fire District Technical Rescue team, Mt. Pleasant's Fire Department Technical Rescue team, S.C.'s Regional Response Team 5 from Columbia and members of the state's Task Force 1, said Deputy Fire Chief Ed Boring.

In a scenario Tuesday afternoon, members of Response Team 4 worked to tear down a cinder-block wall to reach a victim who was trapped under the pickup when it ran into the side of the building, Boring said. Team members had rescued two victims and identified eight more by Tuesday morning.

"This is going to be a tricky one, but team members are efficient," Boring said. "It's a big commitment for them to join the regional rescue team."

If teams aren't able to locate and rescue each dummy, they won't be penalized, he said.

"They are tested on the type of (supports) they build and whether they are correct for the scenario," he said. " This training is irreplaceable to us -- you really can't put a value on it."