In 2019, the Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) identified structural collapse response as a strategic priority for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) and Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department (PGFD). MCFRS and PGFD determined that to ensure an appropriately robust structural collapse response capability that each department needs to be able to deploy 13 trained personnel with the necessary equipment to the scene of a structural collapse incident within 40 minutes and provide cross-county mutual aid within 90 minutes.
To support this priority, MDERS sponsored personnel from MCFRS and PGFD to participate in a structural collapse specialist course in September 2022. This course trains personnel on the critical duties and activities as outlined in their position task books and is a requirement for any individual participating in structural collapse response. This training program, hosted at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy, began with eight hours of computer-based training (CBT), followed by 80 hours of hands-on training. The specialized techniques learned and practiced that are necessary to perform rescues at structural collapse incidents included:
- Breaching: Students learned techniques to break through and access obstructed areas. Participants drilled holes in a triangle formation, then chiseled away the surrounding areas, allowing the triangle to be lifted out, revealing an opening for entrance or extraction.
- Breaking: Students learned the skills and techniques to safely break apart larger pieces of debris to facilitate manual removal without further compromising the structural integrity of a collapse site.
- Lifting: Students learned building methodology and principles of physics to lift large pieces of cement and other debris without the help of a large crane. These techniques ensure that responders are able to remove large amounts of debris before crane operations can be implemented. Students additionally learned how to coordinate crane operations via hand signals to lift and remove debris.
- Shoring: Students learned basic stabilization techniques to create supports that prop up surrounding debris to allow safe ingress and egress from collapsed buildings.
- Burning: Students learned the various characteristics of available torches and the best situations to utilize a particular type to cut through rebar, steel beams, or other metal objects. Students also learned the techniques to effectively cut the metal without comprising the structural integrity in an area of a building.
- Building Construction: Students learned about basic construction and engineering principles to familiarize themselves with a structure and also to construct apparatus needed for an effective rescue.
With the completion of this course, MCFRS and PGFD further increase their cadre of certified structural collapse specialists, ensuring each department’s ability to deploy a fully staffed response team of 13 individuals on scene of a collapse event within 40 minutes. Additionally, by jointly training across both departments, MCFRS and PGFD can deploy fully interoperable mutual aid within 90 minutes of a large collapse event.
To further bolster structural collapse response capabilities within the Maryland-National Capital Region, MDERS is coordinating with MCFRS and PGFD to host two technical search specialist courses and an additional structural collapse specialist course in 2023. These courses, alongside a robust equipment cache, ensure both departments are able to effectively deploy and respond to structural collapse incidents.