Thu September 15, 2011
Buffalo firefighter team prepared for collapses post-9/11
By Sharon Osorio
Buffalo, NY –
Buffalo Fire Department Captain William Clotfelter:
"The federal government decided the few teams that the federal government had obviously wouldn't be enough. They can deploy in about 24 hours, and that's a long time to wait for an Urban Search and Rescue Team. So the state had a team, but it's up in Albany - they call it the capital district team - and they can be in buffalo in about six hours, maybe eight hours. So the federal government decided that they were going to provide money for municipalities - larger municipalities - so that Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, some of the larger cities, would have Urban Search and Rescue Teams that could be able to respond anywhere in the state within an hour."
How did seeing what happened on 9/11 in New York City prompt this to happen?
"It became very obvious that the fire department was a great resource for immediate response, whereas with the federal urban search and rescue teams, they had to assemble and get deployed. The fire department is basically designed to respond quickly, so they realized that resource could be used for urban search and rescue for not just for the municipality that it provides for, but around that area."
Although you're based here in Buffalo, you would respond anywhere in Western New York?
"Sure. We've responded in Western New York, we've actually gone to Canada for a gentleman who was trapped under a giant chain. He was in a shipyard. He got trapped under it. It wasn't a standard chain; these links were two feet across."
What kind of training did you learn and what can you do now?
"We started out with low-angle and high-angle rope rescue, and we moved into confined space rescue. We got into structural collapse and heavy-rigging type situations. That was very involved as far as learning to shore up buildings, and evaluate buildings, and secure a building. And we also did trench rescue."
So you're talking about making a building safer to, first of all, go in there to try to rescue people, and then pull those people out safely?
"That's right. We're always about risk and reward, and if we can shore up the building, we're lowering the risk and increasing the chance that we can go farther into the building, and (we're) basically unlimited in our search because we have the equipment and the knowledge to get into a severely collapsed building."
Aside from the knowledge you carry now on how to conduct these rescues, what do you have on your trucks now that make you more prepared?
"The equipment that we have is just excellent. We have shoring equipment - we have two types of shoring equipment. One is for a quick shore that we can stabilize a building quickly, and we used what are called struts. We throw those up to immediately stabilize a building. We use those quite often when a car goes into a building, and we can shore up their building in a matter of minutes. When we do longer operations, we replace that temporary shoring with wood shoring to permanently shore up a building, and we can take the temporary shores and move on to the next area to keep kind of stepping further and further into the building."
Give me some examples of some of the experiences you've had, the times you've needed to use this training and the equipment.
"Downtown we've had a couple incidents. One that comes to mind is we had a forklift fall through the floor and the operator was trapped inside. When we pulled up, it was a precarious situation; the forklift was still tipping into the hole and the hole in the floor was unsecured. So they stabilized the forklift, and they went into the basement and shored up the floor before they removed the operator, and that tipped the scales for the risk-reward; they made it much safer so they could spend more time carefully taking the patient out and not causing further injuries."
You also mentioned the fire that unfortunately killed two firefighters. You needed to use your training in your experience with that. Can you talk about what you did there?
"When the building collapsed, our guys were still inside. The walls were unstable, the floors were unstable. We first stabilized the outside walls so we could locate our members. And then, when we did find them, we found out that the floor near them had been totally collapsed in. So we had to go in and totally rebuild that floor and go in and get them out. We had to do it quickly, and the money from the grants provided us with the lumber for training and for incidents. So now that we drive around with our collapse rig, we have the lumber that we need, and it's there for us immediately, and before the grants, we wouldn't have had that lumber. We would have had to wait for a lumber company to deliver lumber, rebuild the floor, and it would have caused a delay of hours."
And another situation where you used the training was to remove an obese woman from a second-floor. She was unable physically to get down the first floor when she needed medical help. One of the things had to do was cut a hole in the wall to get her out.
"Right. That really didn't fall into any of the categories of training that we have had of structural collapse. We kind of used the carpentry knowledge we learned from that for this incident. What they did was they had to, first of all, cut a hole in the wall because they couldn't bring her down the stairs, and they had to build a platform to put her on. And they had to use some highlifts and some rigging knowledge that we learned in some of the classes to bring her out. So it doesn't always go the way they train us to do it, but all the training that we've learned has filled up our toolbox so that we can use those tools to do unusual situations like that."