GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — What’s happening in Florida is serving as a vital lesson for Grand Rapids first responders.
A 12-story beachfront condo building partially collapsed near Miami Thursday morning. At least one person was killed and several others were trapped. First responders helped pull out dozens of survivors and are looking for more.
Thirty-six Grand Rapids firefighters are members of the department’s Technical Rescue Team — one of three specialized rescue groups that also includes, Swift Water Rescue and a Hazardous Materials Squad.
The Technical Rescue Team would be called in to handle a variety of catastrophes, from stranded window washers, to workers buried in a trench, to a building collapse.
Fire units at the LaGrave Street headquarters carry the tools needed to handle the unimaginable.
From struts for holding up collapsing walls, to listening devices to detect survivors, and equipment to get to them.
“When it comes to rubble piles, breaching and breaking is a big deal, so we’ve got multiple saws we’re carrying,” said GRFD Capt. Ed Braman, a member of the Technical Rescue Team.
While the Miami-area tragedy grabbed headlines Wednesday, Braman says a building collapse can happen anywhere at any time. And to varying degrees, it could result in a minor incident, like a car crashing into a house, to a major collapse, like in Surfside, Florida.
“Our team’s already looking at it this morning,” Braman said of the Miami incident.
Rescue 2, a unit out of fire headquarters, would be among the first to respond to a collapse in the city.
Members of the Technical Rescue Team, spread out at firehouses throughout the city, would also respond along with additional tools and supplies, like shoring lumber.
Once on scene, the work is slow and deliberate. The stability of a collapsed structure rules out a rush-in and get-the-job-done approach.
“As you see in Miami, it’s a rubble pile. And every time we move the rubble, it’s going to shift, it’s going to move, it’s going to do something different. So, we have to account for any movement,” Braman said. “If you grab that piece of concrete, you may bring down the rest of the pile.”
The Grand Rapids team trains with departments from other areas of the state, and in a large-scale disaster, they can offer assistance to each other.
The training is constant and not always formal.
Members of the team are assessing and discussing buildings and other hazards they spot as they drive to and from calls. And they work with city planners on future buildings.
“To where we’re trying to identify these problems before we have an issue,” Braman said.
But if they do get the call, they’re ready.