Building Collapse Rescue: Operational Considerations

Although there has been recent development of new equipment that has made a significant improvement in how building collapse rescue operations are resolved, the strategy and tactics of the collapse rescue operational plan that we use today can be traced...


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Although there has been recent development of new equipment that has made a significant improvement in how building collapse rescue operations are resolved, the strategy and tactics of the collapse rescue operational plan that we use today can be traced directly back to the time of World War II.

As England sustained heavy damage during many bombing raids, and scores of people were trapped in collapsed buildings, a five step plan was developed by the British government's Civil Defense Department, fire service and military to organize the confusion at a collapse operation. Based on the extensive experience gained by rescue personnel in England, this same plan was adopted by the U.S. Department of Civil Defense during World War II. This five-step plan is essentially the same plan that is taught today in many courses, although the first two components have been combined, resulting in a four-step sequence.

COLLAPSE RESCUE OPERATIONAL PLAN

Survey/assessment and surface search Void search Selected debris removal General debris removal

By following the above plan and breaking the incident down into four main stages, the collapse rescue operation can progress from one step to another in a systematic manner.

7_98_collapse1.jpg
Photo by Dan Quimby
The extrication of occupants trapped in the rear of these partially collapsed row dwellings would pose a significant operational challenge to any fire department. A four-phase collapse rescue operational plan, effective use of outside resources, proper shoring techniques, and specialized rescue tools and training are required to resolve collapse incidents safely.

1. SURVEY/ASSESSMENT & SURFACE SEARCH

The most important step in this operational plan is the initial size-up performed in the survey/assessment phase. Actions taken early on usually set the tone for the entire operation. A complete safety assessment of the entire area should be undertaken by the first-arriving unit(s). This survey should include a six-sided approach to the total area involved (front, rear, sides, top, and bottom of the collapsed structure) and should specifically include a survey for victims, status of utilities, visible fire, extent of collapse and obvious dangers. The remaining building should be surveyed to see how it can be shored and stabilized. At this time, the remaining upper sections of the building should be checked for hanging structural hazards. A size-up and check of the basement for structural conditions and stability should also occur during this stage. Potential for secondary collapse should now be carefully evaluated.

At this point, information regarding the building's use, the number of occupants, and the number of victims trapped and their probable location should be ascertained. Concurrently, as the safety assessment priorities listed above are being evaluated, the incident command system should automatically be activated.

Similar to a hazardous materials incident, the area should be broken down into three distinct zones: the "hot" zone (the collapsed building itself along with adjoining exposures and any secondary collapse potential sections), the "warm" zone (where specialized equipment is staged and a cutting station is set up for shoring operations), and a "cold" zone (where the command post and a staging area for remaining personnel and apparatus are set up).

It is imperative that all utility services are shut down as soon as possible to minimize the dangers to buried victims and also to firefighters operating at the collapse site. Utility companies should also be notified to respond via the radio dispatcher automatically for consultation and assistance, even if a specific utility service is not involved at this point.

Standard operating procedure for the first-due engine company is to obtain a hydrant position and immediately stretch a hoseline. The second-, third- and fourth-due engine companies should obtain a hydrant position and, as conditions dictate, will stretch additional hoselines.

7_98_collapse2.jpg
Photo by Dan Quimby
Collapse rescue shoring, as illustrated in the box cribbing and the larger vertical shoring system, provides temporary support of a damaged or partially collapsed structure.
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