Beverly task force trains to save lives in building collapse

BEVERLY, Mass. — Like most of us, Massachusetts Task Force 1 Program Director Mark Foster saw images from the Surfside, Florida building collapse on television. Rescue crews in South Florida would know how many survivors there were by the end of the day, he said.

“My guess is they’ll know within a couple hours, because if you’re alive you probably can yell. If you can yell, they can find you,” Foster said.

Foster leads MA-TF1 from its training center in Beverly, one of 28 FEMA Urban Search & Rescue teams in the country equipped to handle building collapse.

As bad as it looks in Surfside, Foster said people can survive the collapse of a 12-story building.

“What happens is as the slabs land, pieces of the building and pieces of the furniture may land in between. That may keep the slabs from coming all the way together, and you’ll have voids in there, and what you’ll usually have is a person in there who survives,” Foster said.

Foster’s team was one of the first to respond to the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. MA-TF1 has around 200 part-time members including firefighters, technical rescue technicians, medical professionals and engineers. The crew uses K9s, cameras and sound equipment to locate and speak with survivors.

“I can communicate with the victim, give them instructions, ask them to wave so we can see whether they’re conscious or not. We can do initial medical assessments with them even though we don’t have physical contact with them,” Asst. Program Director Jay Moltenbrey said.

Foster said a K9 can locate a living person in three or four minutes, something the team demonstrated with its rescue dog, Loki.

“That’s part of his training, he’ll go anywhere. If you were in the middle of the pile and he got sent, he’ll tunnel under and get you,” K9 handler Janet Nesbit said.

A partial-building collapse, like the condo in Surfside, is much more dangerous, Foster said. Piles of debris can be more stable, and Foster said he would hesitate sending men and women into the remnants of a structure that could be ready to fall down.

“I’ve seen some damage to that third section just on TV, which would make me think twice about going in there. You don’t want to put somebody in the building that’s still standing unless you absolutely have to,” Foster said.

For those wishing to donate to the victims of Thursday’s Surfside, Fla. condo collapse, you can do so by visiting the link in the following tweet:

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