Firefighters learn urban search and rescue techniques

Personnel from 8 and 19 Wings gather with course instructors at a memorial commemorating 9/11. Behind them is a steel beam salvaged from the collapse of the north tower of the World Trade Center. PHOTO: DND

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By Captain Garrett Sykes

Urban search and rescue (USAR) is one of the many specialized capabilities of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) firefighters, who are ready to deploy to all corners of the world at a moment’s notice for disaster relief.

The goal of a USAR team is to search out and rescue people of all walks of life in disaster-stricken areas, either natural disasters or manmade, both domestically and internationally. There are teams on high readiness at all times at both 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, and 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia.

Firefighters are members of the Royal Canadian Air Force although they may work to support Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army or Royal Canadian Air Force operations. Firefighters provide 24-hour fire protection by working in teams that rotate responsibilities and shifts, and are supported by day staff that includes the fire chief, deputy fire chief and inspectors. Firefighters may deploy away from their home base in support of military operations in Canada or abroad for up to six months.

The skills and certifications necessary to be on this team are taught in an intensive two-week hands-on course in Beverly, Massachusetts, by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) qualified instructors. Many of these instructors have had a long and proud career in the United States USAR task force, bringing in their experience from responding to such disasters as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haiti earthquake.

From June 4 to 15, 2018, this first-class training was broken down into structural collapse and technical search. The firefighters, six from Comox and eight from Trenton, were working with first responders and firefighters from all over the United States on skills ranging from raking and shoring, rigging up supports for unstable structures, and breaching and breaking techniques, to safely bursting through rubble to get to trapped individuals.

The latter half of the course involved learning how to employ rescue equipment to locate survivors trapped under rubble, including acoustic listening devices, adjustable snake-like fibrescope cameras, and even rescue dogs.

The course closed with a large-scale exercise that gave the students an opportunity to practise in a high-pressure environment all the skills they had gained. With a commitment to the creation of more USAR roles in Strong Secure Engaged, Canada’s Defence Policy, the opportunity for our firefighters to use these skills all over the world has never been greater.

Captain Sykes is with 19 Wing Fire Hall


8 Wing Trenton

19 Wing Comox

Canadian Armed Forces firefighter

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (in English)

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