Los Angeles County Firefighters put their response skills to the test this weekend during a 48-hour search and rescue exercise in Castaic.
The California Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team was being evaluated for reclassification as an international deployment Search and Rescue Team at the Del Valle Regional Training Facility on Chiquito Canyon Road.
“It’s the real thing, as much as you can have it in a scenario,” said L.A. County Battalion Chief and Task Force leader Larry Collins.
During the training exercise, the team was faced with a series of simulated rescue scenarios, similar to what they would encounter during international deployment to a metropolitan area after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.
USA-2, the name given to the California Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team when they’re deployed overseas, is only one of two internationally deployable Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams in the United States.
The 75-member team is made up of firefighters, paramedics, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, hazardous materials technicians, communications and logistics specialists, plus six specially trained K-9 search dogs. Each has received specialized training recon and rescue techniques.
“We’ve got to pace ourselves,” said Collins. “We may be here for weeks if it were a real disaster. The rescuers are learning not only how to exercise the tools and the techniques, but how to do it in a way that we can save the most lives in the long term.”
This weekends exercise included everything from mobilization of the team from their special operations facility in Pacoima, to recon, to rescue scenarios that included extracting trapped victims.
The team used a variety of techniques and technologies including search dogs, cameras and seismic sensors to help locate victims who were trapped inside buildings.
The challenge is often working in a foreign land, said Collins, where they may be working with people they’ve never met before and who may speak different languages. That’s why standardization is key. Today’s worldwide standardization for Urban Search and Rescue is set forth by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.
“You can employ different tactics and different equipment, but we need to be able to encounter and overcome a standardized set of challenges safely and effectively,” Collins said, which is exactly what last weekend was all about.
Every five years the USAR teams must be re-certified.
“It’s an evaluation of your readiness to handle a whole laundry list of challenges that all of the teams around the world are given in these exercises,” said Collins.
During the 48-hour drill, an eight-member group of classifiers from around the world evaluated the team.
The evaluators learned about new technologies and strategies employed by USA-2, which they will take back to their home countries and possibly implement in their own rescue operations. Collins said when United States evaluators travel to other countries to see other teams, they also learn a lot.
“It’s really a feedback loop. It guarantees the citizens of L.A. County get the best, fastest, safest rescue capabilities that are possible in the world,” Collins said.