USAR Team Rescues Victim from Structural Collapse

Northwest Ohio Region #1 Urban Search and Rescue Team performs complex structural collapse rescue
Story & Photos by Paul Hasenmeier

On July 7, 2010, rescuers in Ohio were called to the scene of a significant structural collapse with two victims trapped. The rescuers—who came from volunteer, combination and full-time fire departments, and who had varying levels of experience and training—formed a team to carry out unbelievable work in an extremely dangerous environment. This article will focus specifically on the work performed by the Northwest Ohio Region #1 (NWOH1) Urban Search and Rescue Team.

The NWOH1 IC met with chief officers from both Fremont and Toledo. The IC was notified that one trapped victim was alive and talking, and a second victim was deceased.

From one doorway, it was possible to see welding leads on the floor to the area of the deceased victim.

Multiple entrances provided no means for access due to the collapsed structural components. (Note the “V” spray-painted on the rubber roofing material, signifying the victim’s location.)

Rescuers were able to shore three roof sections, remove loose debris and evaluate the victim’s condition.

The IC sent a crew of rescuers to the top of the debris pile and instructed them to break through the concrete to access the victim. The crew used a jackhammer to strategically break off pieces of concrete and hydraulic cutters to cut the cables running through the concrete.

With the airbags in place, cribbing available and knowledgeable predictions about the probable fracture points on the concrete section that was pinning the victim’s legs, rescuers slowly initiated the lift.

Approximately 4 inches of lift was gained from the airbags, allowing rescuers on the underside to perform an in-line drag of the victim to the Sked and quickly remove and transfer him to medical personnel.

The victim was extricated and transferred to EMS at 1723 HRS, less than 4 hours after the initial collapse. The victim was quickly flown to a Level 1 trauma center for definitive care.

Logistics personnel must have a system to track what equipment comes off the trailer and where it goes. During this incident, prior labeling assisted with the recovery of equipment that was mixed with other agencies’ equipment. Many struts and airbags were left in place after the rescue and retrieved during the buildings demolition.

Lag and reinforce pneumatic struts with kick-out stops, such as 4 x 4s; follow manufacturer recommendations; build shoring systems to back up and supplement struts; and always crib as you go when using airbags.

We need to remember that although cribbing is needed quickly, perfectly square-end cuts are not necessary. We eventually used chainsaws, which expedited the process.

The Call
The call came in shortly after 1330 HRS, when the air temperature in Fremont, Ohio, was above 90 degrees F. A private contractor had been repairing support columns inside the factory at The Fremont Company when a partial collapse of the roof structure occurred. This family-owned and -operated business was established in 1905 and manufactures numerous food products, including sauerkraut, ketchup and barbeque sauce.

The Fremont Fire Department responded and quickly requested area-wide assistance for a structural collapse with two victims trapped under the debris. Within minutes, the initial first responders were overwhelmed and requested a response from NWOH1. (Note: This was the first activation of substantial consequence since the team was formed in the post-9/11 period.)

The Response
NWOH1 was mobilized by a call from the Sandusky County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office to Toledo Fire and Rescue Dispatch. Numerous subsequent calls were made to Toledo Fire Department chief officers, NWOH1’s relief commander and other members throughout the region for immediate activation.

NWOH1’s goal is to be on scene and working anywhere in the region within 2 hours of activation. Fortunately, several NWOH1 members were already on scene due to their response with local agencies.

The following outlines a rough estimate of response times for involved agencies, including NWOH1:
• Initial 911 call: 1330 HRS
• Toledo dispatch: 1349 HRS
• Toledo units en route (E5, E18, T5, AC and SO): 1350–1358 HRS
• NWOH1 members begin to be notified: 1358 HRS
• USAR trailer en route 1424 HRS
• NWOH1 incident commander (IC) arrives on scene: 1430 HRS
• Final NWOH1 members arrive on scene: 1545 HRS

NWOH1 Size-Up
The NWOH1 IC met with chief officers from both Fremont and Toledo. The IC was notified that one trapped victim was alive and talking, and a second victim was deceased.

The team conducted a walk-through of the area and determined that they were dealing with a roof collapse spanning 30' x 60', with victims entombed under three 4' x 30' x 8" hollow-core, pre-tensioned sections that weighed approximately 15,000 lbs. each. They also determined that stabilization was the priority. At the time, approximately 20 firefighters from local departments were working in the “hot zone” and endangered by a possible secondary collapse. The Fremont Fire Chief ordered their immediate withdrawal, and a decision was made to only allow structural collapse-trained personnel in this area going forward.

After the walk-through, the IC questioned the building maintenance personnel about certain topics and received the following answers:
• Original building condition and age: Type II, 8" hollow-core, pre-tensioned concrete roof in collapse area; aging; multiple additions
• Current work being performed: Roof support column repair
• Utilities: Gas and electric were being shut off at the curb by utility companies
• Processes performed in area of collapse: Food processing and canning
• Pre-existing hazards in the collapse area: None prior to collapse
• Hazardous materials on site: None in collapse area
• Persons working in the area of collapse: All but two made it out
• Condition of floor: Commercial tile on concrete slab; no crawls or basement

With all available information gathered, the IC briefed and assigned incoming NWOH1 team members as they arrived, which actually worked well in an evolving operation.

Rescue Operations
There were multiple types of collapse involved in this incident: pancake, V-shaped and lean-to collapses. As noted, rescuers established early on that further collapse was possible, and stabilizing the debris and structure was the first priority.

From one doorway, it was possible to see welding leads on the floor to the area of the deceased victim. Access from this point was unsafe due to the potential for additional collapse. Multiple other entrances provided no means for access due to the collapsed structural components.

Rescuers located the live victim through another entrance and made voice communication with him. They were able to shore the three roof sections previously described, remove loose debris and evaluate the victim’s condition. They noted that the victim’s medical condition may include crush syndrome, fractures and psychological stress.

The victim was laying face down with a section of roof pinning his hips and legs. A torch cart pinned his left arm, but a void space protected his chest and head. The victim was talking about his condition and offering advice about how he should be rescued. Note: Be careful of advice from victims; rely on your training instead.

At one point, the contractor on scene wanted to assist with debris removal by using the company’s hydraulic crane. This was not allowed due to the unknown lift capacity of the crane over the top of the damaged structure and the compromised concrete strength. Personnel untrained in structural collapse rescue may have accepted the offer, but it is a dangerous tactic that could result in additional fatalities.

The IC sent a crew of rescuers to the top of the debris pile and instructed them to break through the concrete to access the victim. The crew used a jackhammer to strategically break off pieces of concrete and hydraulic cutters to cut the cables running through the concrete.

After making a small opening about the size of a cookie sheet, rescuers on top of the pile used the hydraulic cutters to cut the torch cart tire and frame so rescuers on the underside could remove the debris, freeing the victim’s arm. Once this debris was removed, rescuers on top were able to create enough room to insert two airbags directly below where they were working and alongside the victim. Rescuers on the underside then prepared a Sked stretcher and opened up a corridor for victim removal.

An emergency physician/amputation specialist was flown to the scene and arrived around the time that this life-or-death lift was going to be made. The decision was made to not wait for the physician as the victim’s condition was deteriorating, access was limited and victim removal was imminent. The physician was redirected to a corridor where the victim would eventually be moved.

With the airbags in place, cribbing available and knowledgeable predictions about the probable fracture points on the concrete section that was pinning the victim’s legs, rescuers slowly initiated the lift. Approximately 4 inches of lift was gained, allowing rescuers on the underside to perform an in-line drag of the victim to the Sked and quickly remove and transfer him to medical personnel.

The victim was extricated and transferred to EMS at 1723 HRS, less than 4 hours after the initial collapse. The victim was quickly flown to a Level 1 trauma center for definitive care.

Rescuers then rehabbed, and key personnel determined that they had reached their limit of exhaustion and stress. (Remember that temperatures were higher than 90 degrees F.) Ohio USAR teams from regions 2 and 5 were en route to the scene at this time, so after a transition briefing and walk-through, the recovery operation of the deceased victim was turned over to them. The recovery ended with the removal of the deceased victim at 2230 HRS.

Lessons Learned
By all accounts, the people, agencies and logistical support organizations involved made this a very successful rescue and recovery. When dealing with incidents of this magnitude, operational critiques of the response can reveal areas for improvement and should be incorporated into training that can assist future operations. Some lessons learned include:

• Regional coordination, training and communication are essential: Communications are challenging at every incident, and the challenge is magnified during incidents like this collapse rescue. Establishing a unified command system, using a command and communications vehicle for planning and briefings, and ensuring key personnel are filling the right roles are critical to success. Regional training and coordination are crucial prior to this type of incident, because recognizing faces and names and knowing each member’s abilities are very important to operational effectiveness.

• Accountability of personnel and equipment can be improved: This scene had hundreds of people on it, and it was difficult to track NWOH1 members. You need a simple tag or Velcro system, along with identification by means of identical helmets and/or vests. Logistics personnel must have a system to track what equipment comes off the trailer and where it goes. During this incident, prior labeling assisted with the recovery of equipment that was mixed with other agencies’ equipment. Many struts and airbags were left in place after the rescue and retrieved during the buildings demolition.

• Air monitoring is a must: In a haste to move rescue events forward quickly, coupled with the appearance of wide-open spaces, air monitoring did not take place early in operations. Monitoring should take place during the initial walk-through for the safety of the rescuers and victims. First readings near the entry point on this scene were 50 ppm of carbon monoxide.

• Apparatus placement is critical: Parking in a safe but close proximity to the scene allows for easy access, deployment and security of equipment.

• Strut systems, airbags and shoring application/installation needs to be perfected: After reviewing the placement and application of struts and wood shoring, several opportunities for improvement were recognized: Lag and reinforce pneumatic struts with kick-out stops, such as 4 x 4s; follow manufacturer recommendations; build shoring systems to back up and supplement struts; and always crib as you go when using airbags.

• Cut stations need to be flexible: We needed to gather and cut cribbing and shoring at a rapid place. We set up the first cutting station near the entry point and used an electric circular saw. Although this was one of the methods we had previously trained on, we need to remember that although cribbing is needed quickly, perfectly square-end cuts are not necessary. We eventually used chainsaws, which expedited the process.

Final Thoughts
A large number of local and regional rescuers worked in extremely hazardous and hot conditions during this structural collapse rescue. Although some aspects of this rescue were not perfect, we were able to conduct a good critique of the operational response, and improvements for next time are already underway.

Use this article as an example to evaluate how your department would handle a similar incident. Could your department successfully rescue the live victim and recover the deceased victim—all with no injuries to rescuers?

This type of incident can happen anywhere. Construction accidents are not partial to big cities or full-time departments. With this in mind, work to coordinate resources and personnel, train together and be prepared for those “it won’t happen to us” incidents. Be safe!

Lieutenant Paul Hasenmeier has been a firefighter for the City of Huron (Ohio) Fire Division since 2000. He’s a paramedic, fire inspector, SCUBA diver and an instructor. He has an associate’s degree in fire science, is knowledgeable and experienced in numerous technical rescue disciplines, and is a member of Ohio’s Region 1 USAR team. Hasenmeier is a contributing author to multiple trade publications, and he has presented at FDIC, the New York Fire Chiefs Conference, the Ohio Fire Chiefs Conference, the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation Conference, the Ohio State Firefighters Association Conference, Fire Rescue Canada, the Fire Department Safety Officers Conference and other regional and national training events. He can be reached at phas@bex.net.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. SUBSCRIBE to FIRERESCUE

Views: 1681

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of My Firefighter Nation to add comments!

Join My Firefighter Nation

Comment by Douglas Crowell, Jr. on October 20, 2010 at 9:21pm
Thanks for doing this. Very well written. You made a very hot and tough day sound like a walk in the park! Thanks Again.
Comment by Lt. R. Scott Goodwin on October 20, 2010 at 9:23am
Excellent Paul and well written. I only wish I was there to support my team. I was teaching a confined space rescue class in Virginia. Don't forget we were activated for the Tornado in Lake Township also. Look forward to seeing you soon and training together! BTW, I finished my swiftwater tech last weekend....whoo hoo!

FireRescue Magazine

Find Members Fast


Or Name, Dept, Keyword
Invite Your Friends
Not a Member? Join Now

© 2019   Created by Firefighter Nation WebChief.   Powered by

Badges  |  Contact Firefighter Nation  |  Terms of Service