Building collapses are no stranger to New York City fire units, but the squad companies play a vital role in the rescue of viable victims.
As with any technical incident, our response tactics vary tremendously from our response to a working fire. The key words here are "slow down!"
Recently in New York City there was a crane collapse. Not one, but two and both within the span of about two months. Amazing!
At the first crane collapse, this massive piece of machinery literally fell out of the sky, landing on a five-story Brownstone type building, causing a pancake style collapse. This crane turned a five story building in to a pile of debris that was a little more than two stories tall, not including the sections of the crane that came to rest on top of the debris pile.
In addition, the toppling crane caused the partial collapse of exposure two (left side) and damaged another building on its way down. Eventually, seven people were to die in this collapse including some of the workers that "rode" the crane as it fell 19 stories, bouncing off of other buildings until it came to rest on top of this Brownstone. The amazing part of this story is that it was 2 p.m. on a sunny Saturday in Manhattan and that section of the street was empty when this event occurred, sparing an untold number of lives.
A structural collapse is an incident where a building or portion thereof including walls, floors or ceilings have collapsed. A structural collapse is one of the most dangerous and difficult operations a firefighter will encounter.
The first arriving units may find clouds of dust or smoke surrounding the area with injured and disoriented people requiring assistance, not to mention there may also be people still trapped inside the collapsed building or on top of the debris pile. As an officer you must remember to control your people and the operation. Our safety is the number one concern.
Relating to the squad company concept, we will discuss the basic operations of a squad company arriving at a collapsed building and some general collapse operations and considerations that everyone must consider when operating at a collapse scenario. The operations and procedures stated below are not all encompassing and by no means shall it be construed that reading this article makes you a collapse technician. These are just tidbits of information from the operational procedures we use in the FDNY.
The squad companies operate using the team concept. In New York City we have a minimum manning clause that requires all rescue and squad companies to start the tour with five firefighters and an officer. The team concept allows us to break into two teams of three or three teams of two, the latter of which is used most often, except, perhaps, in a collapse situation.
Upon arrival the apparatus will be placed outside of the collapse zone but as close as possible to create easy access to the needed specialized tools and equipment. The officer will go directly to the command post to check-in and gather as much information as possible. Some of the vital information includes: What could have possibly caused the collapse? Are the utilities under our control? How many victims might there be and their possible location. Are any other buildings affected and if so are they too in danger of falling? Has the collapse rescue plan been initiated?
The other members of the unit will await their orders while gathering the tools according to their assignment. The chauffeur will take the battery operated reciprocating saw and spare batteries, the can man will take the collapse bag and will be the main entrant for search. The roof man will be the back up for the search and will take locking struts for initial support. The irons man will start to set up a cutting station with the hook man. The cutting station is set up to cut lumber as needed for shoring as we initiate void searches.