The display of accessorized heavy equipment that greeted me as I arrived at the site where I was to hold a class in trench rescue and structural collapse for the Allegheny (FA) County Department of Special Services and Maintenance Operations would make the largest construction firm envious. Not only was all the equipment good looking (all painted white), but it was in excellent condition and the disciplined personnel knew their jobs. In all my travels across the country, I have not seen an outfit like—or one that even comes close to—the Allegheny County’ unit.

We in the emergency services somehow have been overlooking a community resource that is second to none in equipment and manpower. Some of you might be saying, “Wait a minute. We have had public works on tap for years.”

My answer to that is, “Have you ever worked with these personnel? Do you know their capabilities? Do they know which of your needs they can serve? Have you trained jointly? How many pieces of equipment and how much manpower do they have available right now for your needs?”

Putting together and maintaining a unit such as the Allegheny Department takes a skillful blend of politics and economics; these skills were provided by County Commissioners Tom Foerster, chairman; Pete Flaherty; and Lawrence W. Dunn.

Directed by Joseph P. Moses, the Allegheny Department has more than 400 pieces of rolling stock that includes 80 “heavies” such as cranes, backhoes, loaders, and dozers that service 730 square miles. Moses; Thomas Martinelli, deputy director; and James W. Stitt, operations manager, trained the Allegheny County Department personnel to respond to emergency situations including—but not limited to—high-angle rescues, chemical and fuel spills, trench collapses, structural collapses, floods, and other natural and man-caused disasters.

The Allegheny County Department of Special Services and Maintenance Operations Delta Team includes emergency managers, civil and structural engineers, heavy equipment operators, riggers, iron workers, welders, plumbers, carpenters, forestry workers, electricians, locksmiths, stationary engineers, elevator repairmen, and mechanics. All of the trade groups have their own sendee trucks, many of which have four-wheel drive and are equipped with winches, body cranes, generators, floodlights, and compressors. The team, which typically responds with 100 members and has the means to transport its own fuel and food, can be self-contained for approximately 200 hours.

An emergency deployment could include the following equipment:

  • Four four-wheel-drive backhoes with extendable sticks (also plumbed for hydraulic breakers and other hydraulic accessories).
  • Three each Caterpillar 955 tracked loaders and Gradall 880 hydraulic excavators with breaker attachments.
  • Six rubber-tired loaders.
  • One each 20and 50-ton conventional lattice boom cranes with clamand drag-line attachments and 600cfm portable air compressor with accessories.
  • Five 175-cfm portable air compressors with accessories.
  • Three each street sweepers and sewer-cleaning trucks with 1,500-gallon fresh water capacity.
  • Two each mechanic, electrician, and plumber service trucks.
  • Three iron worker service trucks.
  • One each electrician bucket truck with hydraulic accessories and roll-back (tow truck).
  • Twenty each dual-wheel, 1.5-ton, six-passenger pickup trucks and dump trucks (single axles, tandems, and tri-axles).
  • One 17-man tracked all-terrain personnel carrier with hydraulics.
  • Six 30-foot light towers with six 1,500-watt metal halide lamps and eight-kw generators.
  • Three 45-passenger school buses.
  • One power plant trailer with two 900-amp Caterpillar generators (wired as needed on site).
  • Two portable hydraulic bridges 35 feet long, 12.5 feet wide, and collapsible (used by Marines to transport tanks and other equipment across streams, ravines, etc.).
  • One portable lumber mill.


In addition, the department has hydraulic and pneumatic breakers and drilling equipment; 450and 1,400-gallon capacity water buffalo with gang faucets; gas-powered duboff saws with 14-inch fluted, dry diamond blades; hydraulic rams and spreaders; threeand six-inch dieselpowered trash pumps; all-terrain vehicles; gas-powered utility vehicles with dump bodies (golf cart size); and integrated tool carriers on some frontend loaders that allow the machine to drop the bucket and install forks, grappling hooks, jibs, and similar equipment. The department has an inhouse lumber yard with regular stock. Various detachable goose-necked and low-bed trailers as well as 45-foot reefer trailers for food storage can be dispatched. All vehicles are equipped with two-way radios. Arctic weather clothing—such as coveralls, parkas, and masks —is in stock, as are 150,000-Btu diesel outdoor heaters.

The department is planning to install two heavy-duty, roll-off chassis with six roll-off bodies. The bodies will be classified according to the type of contents—hydraulics, pneumatics, and lumber, for example—and w’ill be walk-in design with hydraulic pumps, generators, floodlighting, and so forth. A stainless steel tanker rolloff, which will be custom designed and modified by in-house workforces, also is under consideration.


Five recently acquired 12by 60foot used mobile homes will be modified as follows:

Trailer 1: Install 50 gang showers with drainage system and hot-water heaters.

Trailer 2: Install 50 gang toilets w ith sewerage connections.

Trailer 3: Install a field kitchen with propane-fired stoves, ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and other appliances.

Trailer 4: Install 50 three-tier bunk beds, heat, and air-conditioning.

Trailer 5: Modify on site as needed.

The county is trying to acquire emergency continuous movement permits for the trailers, and it has put several local mobile home moving companies on its resource list.

Now’ equipped with 70 Airshores with emphasis on B, C, and D jacks, future plans call for the installation of additional Airshores. Quantities of sound-detection equipment, hydraulic rescue tools, air bags, Water Wedges, and Bristar 2000 also will be increased.

During an emergency, all equipment is staffed for 24-hour operation, using 12-hour shifts. Field mechanic and service trucks rotate among equipment for breakdowns, lubrication, and modification. In the event of a disaster near or in water, the department’s Marine Division can be mobilized and placed into service. Approximately 10 watercraft, ranging in size from 16 to 28 feet, are available.


A software package that will interface with the National Weather Service to provide colored weather radar images—which can be as small as a city or as large as the hemisphere — will be installed shortly. This system also will show other pertinent weather information such as winds, precipitation, forecasting, and time lapse. A mobile software package for use in a vehicle with a computer is being developed. The program will allow the department to respond to a natural disaster and receive satellite weather imagery to work around storms and other types of inclement weather that affects operations.

Among other software packages being considered are the Hilti program for determining pullout and shear values and proper anchor selection for lifting and a mobile structural engineering package for use during steel and concrete structural collapses that will allow a structural engineer to determine loads on different members, deflections, and geometric instabilities after a collapse and areas prone to further collapse.

Also under consideration is a plan to combine forces with Dr. Richard Kunkle and the Special Medical Response Team of New Florence, Pennsylvania, to add an important medical component.

And so it goes! A tiger in our midst, and we don’t recognize it. Or is it more proper to say that we recognize it but are afraid to learn more about it? When 1 ask many public works departments across the country why they are not more active as a “community resource” for local emergencies, the answer is, “We are not asked.” Director Moses sums it up when he says, “We are not out to take anyone’s job in the emergency services; we are here to assist when needed. In our everyday jobs, we repair bridges, maintain ski slopes, run a zoo, tear down structures, rebuild structures, install sewers, and perform every other type of job imaginable. So, yes, we do have the expertise, manpower, and equipment to get things done.”

The department is, in my opinion, one of the top organizations in the country suitable for responding to a natural disaster. The challenge to the emergency services is to organize teams that include personnel and equipment from local public works departments. Allegheny County has instituted a program that will enable fire departments and other emergency responder agencies to swap information on how to develop such teams. The Phoenix and Virginia Beach fire departments already have their “special operations” teams underway. Let’s keep the movement going!

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