Vandenberg teams with local search, rescue members to hone skills

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shane M. Phipps
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron’s fire department here participated in a comprehensive Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) exercise at Allan Hancock College's public safety training complex, Feb. 2.

As part of a regional US&R team, Vandenberg Air Force Base firefighters trained alongside counterparts from local departments -- focusing on locating, extracting and stabilizing victims trapped in confined spaces.

"Building or structure collapse events, due to earthquakes, gas explosions or even terrorism, provide California firefighters with a clear and present threat," said Mark Farias, the 30th CES fire chief. "No single agency can mobilize and deploy the resources necessary to contend with such a disaster scenario. This is why mutual aid agreements exist and this is why the Santa Barbara Regional Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, along with Ventura County, conducted this challenging exercise."

With multiple stations set up, firefighters were able to gain important hands-on practice dealing with a variety of different structural failures.

"In this particular scenario we had three different evolutions simulating different collapsed structures," said Essex Martinez, the 30th CES US&R fire captain, search team manager and evaluator. "The emphasis on all three of these scenarios is shoring through timber, a little bit of rope rescue and lifting and moving debris using a crane, pry-bars, or air bags."

For exercise participants, the event provided a valuable opportunity to build interagency cohesion and familiarization.

"You practice like you play and the more realistic the training, the better prepared you are in a real-life situation," said Joel Rodriguez, a 30th CES firefighter. "We go wherever they send us and it's extremely important to build the relationships with local departments because they may need our help off base, or vice versa, we could need their help on base."

30th CES leadership also understands the importance of being able to smoothly operate alongside firefighters from all over California.

"The 30th Civil Engineer Fire Protection Flight is completely integrated with our local partners," Farias said. "We participate and evaluate local training events and this most recent exercise is an example of what resources Vandenberg AFB could expect if we needed this type of aid during a catastrophic event."

The training also allows the firefighters an opportunity to practice working seamlessly together, which will help them save critical time in the event of a catastrophe, and could mean the difference between life or death.

"It really translates to the difference between an hour or two because if you meet up with a task force you are unfamiliar with, there's always some tentativeness," Martinez said. "Where our task force is so familiar with each other, we already know if one of us gives a command, we don't even ask questions because that trust is already there. We're able to go to work right when those wheels stop. When it comes to structural collapse, victims might only have one day max. When you're dealing with victims who have crush syndrome and all kinds of other injuries, we can't afford to waste any time."