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Eastside Fire & Rescue Prepares to Lead the Way in Structural Collapse Rescue

The agency's technical team spent Tuesday, March 27, training with a variety of new tools that will allow it to act quickly in the case of building and vehicle collapses.

They rescued a "victim" trapped underneath two vehicles from a simulated pileup, figured out how to move a 900-pound block of concrete 20 feet or more using only their wits plus a few crowbars, a couple of metal cables, and two-by-fours. They cut through steel and concrete, and came out without a scratch.

All the Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters have left to learn now after Structural Collapse Training is how to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The training was new to firemen at Eastside Fire & Rescue, said Capt. Pete Brummel, made possible in large part by a $115,000 Homeland Security grant the agency received. Homeland Security's Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) administers a federal grant that assists first responders in disaster preparedness equipment.

"These disciplines here are brand new," said Capt. Pete Brummel, who led the training. Brummel is a member of both the King County Homeland Security Workgroup and the Emergency Management Council.

The agency was able to buy pheumatic drills and chainsaws with the funds, and  the Eastside Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association provided funding for the purchase of a new Petrogen Oxygen-Gasoline rescue cutting torch, a specialized piece of equipment used in a variety of structural collapse conditions. For the training exercise held yesterday, Old Castle Precast, of Auburn, donated and delivered a number of huge concrete blocks and barriers to Eastside Fire's administrative offices in Issaquah.

Previously, in King County, the major agencies with heavy rescue training and equipment for structural collapse (often associated with earthquakes) have been Seattle and Tacoma fire departments, but the equipment and training was not readily available on the Eastside, Brummel said. 

"Eastside Fire & Rescue now ranks up there, equipment-wise," he said.

Soon, with the addition of two new fire trucks, one of which will be kept in Sammamish, Eastside Fire will be the first agency in the Pacific Northwest to have the capability to run the new pneumatic tools directly from its trucks.

Brummel said the new trucks will have air compressors that will allow firefighters to spray foam on fires, and the agency plans to have the trucks fitted so that they could also attach the new tools directly to the trucks and use the same air compressor to operate their new tools. He said the agency's goal is to eventually replace all of its engines with air-compressor equipped trucks.

The training yesterday was about much more than mere equipment, however. The firefighters practiced constructing wooden frames to shore up the interior of structurally unsound buildings so they could go in farther to search for victims of a catastrophe.

Since many of Eastside Fire's coverage area is rural and doesn't have ready access to supplies, the firefighters learned ways to use what's available to increase their ability to deal with structural collapses, using the new tools available to them. Eastside Fire provides fire and emergency serevices in an area of about 200 square miles, including both Issaquah and Sammamish.

For example, Brummel said, in a city like Sammamish, there is no lumber yard, but firefighters could use their hydraulic chainsaws to dismantle the deck of a compromised building to get to the two-by-fours that could then be repurposed to access victims in a collapse.

Luckily, this is also the kind of thing local firefighters thrive on, and the training grounds had the appearance of a big playground in a thank-goodness-this-isn't-real way.

"This is a lot of fun," Brummel said.

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