One thing you can count on as a firefighter: you never know what the new shift will bring. Usually, it's a variety of medical calls, a small fire or two and maybe a vehicle accident. But on the morning of May 16, 1997, Metro-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) in Miami embarked on a day-long incident...
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One thing you can count on as a firefighter: you never know what the new shift will bring. Usually, it's a variety of medical calls, a small fire or two and maybe a vehicle accident.
But on the morning of May 16, 1997, Metro-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) in Miami embarked on a day-long incident that would pull resources from all corners of its nearly 2,000-square-mile territory.
Dispatcher: "Attention This is a building assignment with an additional rescue unit. It's being reported as a building collapse, and there are people injured."
The Biscayne Kennel Club, a very large and old structure that had served as a dog racing track, was being demolished to make room for an expanding private university to the east. MDFR crews knew the building was being destroyed and in fact had trained at the location several times. That knowledge still didn't prepare them for what they were about to encounter. The first units arrived within one minute, and confirmed everyone's worst fear.
Rescue 19: "Show us arrival in front of the structure. We do have a collapse show this unit command on the north side of the building."
As the crews from Rescue 19 began assessing the scene, other units started to arrive and establish different sectors.
Rescue 30: "South sector to command. Be advised that we have a major collapse and that we have four people confirmed trapped on this side. We're going to need TRT (Tactical Rescue Team) and heavy equipment to do any type of extricating here."
Photo by Carl Eloi
Metro-Dade Fire Rescue crews remove the last victim from the southeast corner of the Biscayne Kennel Club building.
Photo by Keith Bowermaster
One of three live patients is taken to the Medical Sector for transport to a hospital. Five workers were inside the structure when it collapsed.
"When we arrived, the scene was just indescribable, something I had never seen before myself," said Firefighter Tom Sticco of Engine 20, one of the first units on the scene. "I knew the building was being demolished and that workers were inside, so I was thinking this was going to be a major operation with approximately 10 to 15 victims trapped."
With the severity and size of the collapse, and the knowledge that there were actually five victims confirmed inside, the incident commander, now a battalion chief, called for reinforcements. He ordered the dispatch of all three TRT units and Hazmat, and asked that the Special Operations Division begin mobilizing its Urban Search and Rescue Team, Florida Task Force 1 (FTF-1). Thirty members of the task force were told to stage at nearby Station 19 while the equipment, structural engineers and trauma physicians were sent directly to the scene.
"There is no doubt that the experience and knowledge gained on our missions in Oklahoma City and the recent building collapse in Puerto Rico (see page 88), just to name two, enhanced our capabilities on this incident," said MDFR Chief Dave Paulison. "But most of the responding crews were not task force members and they did an outstanding job of assessing the situation, establishing an ICS (incident command system), requesting the necessary resources and eventually removing all of the victims."
Photo by Carl Eloi
The second patient to be extricated from the southeast corner of the building is prepared for transport.
With the necessary units and resources enroute, the on-scene crews immediately began the task of finding the five victims. Eyewitnesses reported seeing them in two locations, on the southwest and southwest corners on the building. Two separate rescue scenes were established as rescue workers made their way into the rubble. Shouts for help in the southeast section allowed crews in that area to quickly find two victims, while rescue crews on the southwest corner found one victim who was lightly trapped, and who pointed to the area of the other two victims.