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3030 78th Avenue SE
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Phone: 206.275.7607
Fax: 206.275.7970
Email: mi_fire@mercergov.. . .
Hours: 8:00am to 8:00pm, Daily
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USAR Trainng Drill and Background Information

November USAR Training Drill – Collapsed Freeway / Rescue

November 14 - 16 at Seattle Fire Department’s Station 28 Hillman Training facility it was the site for Washington State’s Urban Search & Rescue (WATF-1) annual training scenario.  This year’s drill mimicked 2 different scenarios.  The first event was the effects of a Hurricane similar to our experiences in Gulfport in 2005 and involved a number of vehicles “washed inland” and containing trapped persons; the second event was a collapse scenario involving vehicles and trapped persons in a hospital. 


While the drill utilized all components of the USAR team (Plans, Medical, Technical, etc), the drill was geared primarily to the Rescue component of the team. Designed by the WATF-1 Rescue Mangers, including Mercer Island Fire’s Lt John Bridenbaugh, the drill was designed to re-familiarize rescue personnel with the specialized equipment utilized by the USAR team, proper use of those tools, and reacquaint them-selves, and work alongside other members of the team (there are over 220 members on the team).  Mercer Island firefighters who are a part of the USAR team include: Battalion Chief Shawn Matheson; Lt. John Bridenbaugh; lt. Bob Barden; and Firefighter Ken Knott.


These drills occur only once per year for the WATF-1 team due to their costs.  FEMA provides funding to each team on an annual basis.  Part of this funding is to provide one training event each year for Task Force members. 


Due to the types of situation encountered by the USAR teams, the drills can be very expensive to produce.   In order for these drills to be successful, it is critical that all organizations represented, participate in all phases of team training and operations.  A tremendous amount of energy and participation are required for most team related events.



What’s the value to the local jurisdiction?


There are numerous direct benefits to the Mercer Island community that are worth noting.  Mercer Island has participated in the USAR system since its inception.  There are currently five Mercer Island firefighters on the team.


  • Mercer Island firefighters learn skills that they would not otherwise be exposed to.  These skills are shared with other fire department members and increase the skill level of this community’s first responders.
  • Mercer Island firefighters have established a network of contacts in other fire service and law enforcement groups that has had tangible benefits to the community.  These have been realized in things such reductions in time spent for the creation of policies / procedures / techniques / training programs, and so on.  Mercer Island Fire Department has limited staff capability to dedicate resources to these endeavors.  Participating in the USAR system is another mechanism that provides these items to the Mercer Island community.
  • Mercer Island firefighters participate in a regional service.  The USAR system is available to every community in the United States.  In the event of a catastrophic event such as terrorism or natural disaster, not only are the WATF-1 resources available to us, but there are an additional 27 teams in the US than can be deployed if needed.
  • The USAR program is another example of regionalization in action.  As public dollars become increasingly scarce, the fire service has taken a lead in local government in developing ways to combine agencies, services, programs and other systems that reduce taxing burdens of our communities.
  • Members of the USAR team believe that participating in this system is the right thing to do – it serves a higher purpose.  Imagine if every community closed their borders – simply said we will offer nothing and ask nothing in return.  A decision such as that would have tremendous implications for our society.  The fire service has learned that the sharing of services and resources is the most economical path and one that our communities demand of us.  Participating in the USAR system is one branch of this tree.




Due to the nature of the work, the risks, frequency of occurrences, skill requirements, tools and such, it is critical that members of both the fire service and the USAR system maintain the highest level of skill and capability – it is what our communities expect from their government agencies.  The relationship between USAR and the Fire Service is a natural one – much like the relationship that was initiated many years ago between EMS work and the Fire Service.  It becomes simply a natural relationship and one that is an economy of scale.


The Mercer Island community has been the recipient of the benefits of the contributions they have made to the USAR program.  Some of these benefits are tangible and some are not.  Like many things, it takes a close look, perhaps even a participation in something, to truly understand its value.  The Mercer Island Firefighters who are members of the USAR system, take great pride in representing the Mercer Island community.  We recognize our responsibilities and believe deeply in the importance of our participation.  We have seen the value that our community has received and continues to receive through participation in this very important service.



The following is some background information about the USAR system.

National Urban Search and Rescue System

  • In the early 1980s, the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue and Metro-Dade County Fire Department created elite search-and-rescue (US&R) teams trained for rescue operations in collapsed buildings. Working with the United States State Department and Office of Foreign Disaster Aid, these teams provided vital search-and-rescue support for catastrophic earthquakes in Mexico City, the Philippines and Armenia.
  • In 1991, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) incorporated this concept into the Federal Response Plan, sponsoring 25 national urban search-and-rescue task forces. Today there are 28 national task forces staffed and equipped to conduct round-the-clock search-and-rescue operations following earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, aircraft accidents, hazardous materials spills and catastrophic structure collapses.
  • If a disaster event warrants national US&R support, FEMA will deploy the three closest task forces within six hours of notification, and additional teams as necessary. The role of these task forces is to support state and local emergency responders' efforts to locate victims and manage recovery operations.
  • Each task force consists of two 31-person teams, four canines, and a comprehensive equipment cache. US&R task force members work in four areas of specialization: search, to find victims trapped after a disaster; rescue, which includes safely digging victims out of tons of collapsed concrete and metal; technical, made up of structural specialists who make rescues safe for the rescuers; and medical, which cares for the victims before and after a rescue.
  • In addition to search-and-rescue support, FEMA provides hands-on training in search-and-rescue techniques and equipment, technical assistance to local communities, and in some cases federal grants to help communities better prepare for urban search-and-rescue operations.
  • The bottom line in urban search-and-rescue - someday lives may be saved because of the skills these rescuers gain. These first responders consistently go to the front lines when America needs them most. We should be proud to have them as a part of our community.
  • Not only are these first responders a national resource that can be deployed to a major disaster or structural collapse anywhere in the country. They are also the local firefighters and paramedics who answer when you call 911 at home in your local community.
  • Events such as the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, the Northridge earthquake, the Kansas grain elevator explosion in 1998, the New York Terrorist attack in 2001, and earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999 underscore the need for highly skilled teams to rescue trapped victims.


FEMA Task Force Tools and Equipment

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsors 27 national urban search-and-rescue squads. These teams, comprised of firefighters, engineers, medical professionals, canine/handler teams and emergency managers with special training in urban search-and-rescue environments, serve as a national resource for disaster response.
  • The equipment cache used to support a task force weighs nearly 60,000 pounds and is worth about $1.4 million. Add the task force members to the cache and you can completely fill a military C-141 transport or two C130's.
  • Logistics specialists handle the more than 16,400 pieces of equipment needed to support the task force. To ensure rapid and effective response, the task force equipment cache must be a construction site, communications center, high-tech engineering firm, mobile emergency room, and camp rolled into one.
  • The equipment cache allows the task force to be totally self-sufficient for up to four days.
  • The equipment cache consists of five types of equipment: medical, rescue, communications, technical support and logistics.
  • Medical supplies include various medicines, intravenous fluids, blankets, suture sets, airways, tracheal tubes, defibrillators, burn treatment supplies, bone saws and scalpels.
  • The search component of the equipment is a lot like the equipment at a normal construction site. Common cache supplies include concrete saws, jackhammers, drills, lumber and rope. This equipment is used to safely reach trapped victims, and to safely and slowly remove them from the rubble.
  • The communications section allows rescuers to stay in contact in case of a find or an evacuation. Generators, lights, radios, cellular phones, laptop computers and other electronics equipment are used.
  • More than 500 items make up the most high-tech of all the equipment: the technical support cache. Snake-like cameras and fiber optic scopes are used to locate victims trapped in rubble. Sensitive listening devices that can detect even the slightest human sound locate victims who are still alive.
  • The logistics section cares for the needs of the rescuers as they work in 12-hour shifts around the clock. Supplies include sleeping bags, cots, food and water, as well as cold weather gear.


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