USAR LESSONS REINFORCED

USAR LESSONS REINFORCED

THE NORTHRIDGE EARTHQUAKE

  • Time of day is a critical size-up factor. Rescuers could concentrate predominantly on bedroom areas of this residential occupancy and rule out or postpone other areas with less potential for a more efficient, more rapid primary search, particularly of unresponsive but possibly live victims.
  • Initial size-up should include a determination of the configuration, size, etc. of the structure prior to collapse. This information should be disseminated to incoming companies so they can achieve a clearer mental image of potential victim locations, scene geography, collapse search “landmarks,’’ etc.
  • Knowledge of building construction is essential for structure collapse operations. The soft-story construction of the Northridge Meadows Apartments contributed to a 10-foot building shift, affecting search tactics.
  • A structural collapse size-up also should include possible access points to help rescuers make an expedient search.
  • Each search team must have a predetermined escape route from the collapsed structure.
  • Designate a rescue group on standby to provide backup in case of secondary collapse.
  • Providing necessary logistical support-food, fuel, toilets, water, equipment, shoring materials, etc.-is a difficult task during disasters but is critical to the success of the extended collapse search operation. Preplan your logistics.
  • “Preparedness kits”-supplies of food and water-should be stocked at each fire station for use during disaster/extended operations.
  • A rapid, efficient search is essential. Do not attempt to remove fatalities while in primary search and rescue mode. Rescuers at the Northridge Meadows Apartments collapse first breached into voids holes that were just large enough to determine if the victims were alive or dead. If a victim was found to be dead, rescuers
  • pulled a sheet over the body, if possible, and marked the area prominently to identify the location of a fatality, then moved on to search for a live victim. The marking system for fatalities consisted of spraypainted information both inside the room above the body and on the outside of the building near an access point to the body. Information included the victim’s sex and approximate age, time found, and unit that discovered the victim.
  • ALS medical caches should be decentralized so as to become easily available to rescuers operating at remote, difficult-toreach locations.
  • The potential for crush syndrome injuries in building collapse situations makes constant medical monitoring of the victim a necessity.
  • Specialized USAR equipment should be available to numerous USAR teams operating at various locations; decentralizing this equipment would be beneficial during large-scale disaster operations. The individual equipment caches should be mobile to facilitate rapid response.
  • The floor next to the bed was a safe place to be during this earthquake. A void space usually existed next to each bed. A majority of the deceased were found on their beds.
  • The use of hand tools (sledgehammers, etc.) may be preferred to some power equipment in breaching floors and walls during search. They use less space, create less dust, are not as noisy, and may cause less vibration. However, electric chain saws, reciprocating saws, and small demolition hammers were used to advantage by members operating in the confined void spaces.
  • Always check and control the utilities.
  • Limit the access of nonessential personnel to the collapse area.
  • For any condition in which the proportion between resources and number of incidents swings against the fire department, as is the case in large-scale disasters, incidents and commitments must be prioritized. The immediate decisions to commit or not may be extremely difficult, but they have to be made. Members must be trained and mentally prepared ahead of time for what they may hear, see, and feel in a “critical incident.” In addition, officers must be prepared to make critical decisions based on fact and reality, not emotion.
  • Drive-throughs must be completed. Disaster triage cannot be completed without correct information. Just as important. all incidents and actions must be reported in a simple, basic format through the chain of command. The report must contain
  • information pertaining to the type of incident, its priority, and the specific needs to address it so that additional resources can be requested and dispatched appropriately as they become available, are moved up, or are brought in through mutual aid.
  • Training field companies (engine and truck companies) in USAR tactics and procedures and providing them with additional USAR equipment, tools, and supplies would strengthen a fire department’s onduty USAR resources at a minimal cost.
  • When in Earthquake Mode, officers should inform their commander during the initial check-in of how many USAR and/or paramedic trained members are on the crew. This would help quantify resource capability and form the foundation for a relief plan, using inspectors, self-responders, or recalled members to relieve members with specialized skills.
  • Members’ experience and training are the great equalizer in a collapse situation.
  • In an effort to improve and learn from disasters such as the Northridge Earthquake, the LAFD Disaster Preparedness Section is involved in the following:
  • Training and equipping field task forces and paramedic engines in each division for USAR response.
  • Developing ALS medical caches for downtown and the San Fernando Valley to enhance paramedic response capability.
  • Dedicating apparatus or vehicles to transport equipment, supplies, and personnel for Nos. 1 and 2 above.
  • Providing “preparedness kits” to each fire station.
  • Improving the rapid deployability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) USAR Task Force as a complete team or in components.
  • Packaging operational training and equipment to improve the task force capability.
  • Standardizing and simplifying city procedures for applying for FEMA reimbursement for disaster response.
  • Assisting in the development of a “family notification” system so that onduty members know their families have been checked on.
  • As a result of the Northridge Earthquake, we are working with the department’s InService Training Section to develop a training bulletin(s) to assist all members with structural collapse size-up. basic shoring/ cribbing techniques, and disaster medicine, along with basic operational guides for improving company effectiveness and reducing risks during earthquake operations.

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