PUBLIC SAFETY/Crews practice high-rise response techniques
In April, specially trained firefighters with the Clayton (Mo.) Fire Department (CFD) spent two weeks training their co-workers on response procedures for high-rise building collapses. The exercise allowed the CFD to gauge its ability to remove people trapped beneath heavy concrete and to identify the equipment it would need to perform that task efficiently.
According to CFD Captain Phil Lopez, responding to a major collapse became even more important to the department after Sept. 11. The CFD wanted to determine how much it could accomplish during a similar disaster situation.
The CFD worked with St. Louis-based Clayco Construction to build a model of a floor that might be found in a parking garage or high-rise structure. The company constructed a four-foot-tall frame on concrete piers to support a concrete slab, which ranged from six inches to 16 inches thick. The company used reinforced steel bars and post-tension cable to replicate a floor.
Once construction of the slab was complete, each of the CFD’s three crews — consisting of seven to 10 firefighters each — began removing four-foot-by-four-foot sections of the concrete. “The [goal] was to cut a section of the slab and lift it out cleanly as though someone were trapped beneath it,” Lopez says.
The crews used breakers to break the concrete and hammer drills to run additional cabling through the slab. They also used a chain saw to cut through the concrete, and a round saw to cut concrete and rebar. “We found that each tool would prove useful in specific situations and that no one tool could do it all,” Lopez notes.
As firefighters practiced using the tools, they became more adept at removing concrete sections. “After a couple of tries, we learned enough tricks to cut down on the amount of time [it took to remove them],” says Fire Chief Mark Thorp.
After firefighters removed the concrete sections, they cut the support legs of the concrete structure and placed the slab on its side at an angle, Thorp explains. Then, the firefighters practiced breaking up the concrete, cutting rebar and post-tension cables with various tools, and lifting and moving heavy pieces of concrete.
“[The exercise] allowed those of us who are Rescue Technicians with Missouri Task Force 1 (an urban search and rescue team) to share our training with others in our department,” Lopez says. Because all project materials and tools were donated, the CFD did not incur any costs for the training.