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Practice, Practice, Practice

Technical Rescue Teams prepare constantly.

Every time firefighters are called to a burning building there is more to threaten their lives than just the inferno. There is the very real possibility of being trapped by the building itself.

The task of protecting their own and rescuing others who may be encased under tons of concrete, brick or steel falls to the Technical Rescue Team. Last week TRT members from Alexandria and Arlington County fire departments sharpened their skills during a week-long training exercise.

Officially known as a Structural Collapse Training Class, the purpose is to train new and existing TRT members to “enhance their skills and add members to the team," according to Jane Malik, public information officer, Alexandria Fire Department.

A total of 40 students and 15 instructors from both departments took part in the exercise that took place at several Alexandria locations and the Vulcan quarry just off Van Dorn Street. It involved shoring techniques used to stabilize compromised structures, breaching/breaking concrete and lifting/moving heavy objects.

"This type of training is essential in dealing with situations such as the one we faced at the Pentagon on 9/11," said John Vollmer, Alexandria firefighter TRT and part of the logistics team overseeing the training. The two teams, Alexandria and Arlington, worked together during that catastrophe in 2001.

"The primary purpose of the shoring training is to allow us to work inside a building and even along the outside without it collapsing on us," Vollmer explained. "If you have a brick wall, particularly, that has been weakened it can collapse on the firefighters, even as they walk by."

ELEMENTS OF THE shoring training included bracing outside and internal walls, framing windows and doorways to enhance their security, and building vertical shoring to hold up roofing or floors. This was all done on the last three days at the Alexandria Fire Training Center "Burn Building" and at that portion of The Berg now undergoing demolition.

"The final scenario was done at The Berg so that the students could use all the concepts explained in the lectures in a practical application on actual buildings in a neighborhood setting," said Lieutenant David Bogozi, Alexandria Fire Department.

One of the primary elements of the shoring instruction was the creation of a "box crib," according to Vollmer. "This requires building a lumber, diamond-shaped box around an existing column from floor to ceiling. It is actually replacing the column that has been damaged. It's exactly what we had to do at the Pentagon that day," he said.

"The first three days of the class were spent at the Vulcan quarry breaching and breaking concrete. It required lifting and moving weights of 3,000 to 5,000 pounds," Vollmer explained.

THE ARLINGTON County Fire Department members were under the direction of Captain Scott McKay. In addition to The Pentagon, both teams had also worked together following the LaPlata, Md., tornado in 2002, according to Malik.

In order to carry out these joint exercises every 18 months, both departments depend on the support of several companies that supply equipment and locations at no cost, according to Alexandria's Captain Terry Kisner. They are Sunbelt Rental, Virginia Concrete, Vulcan Material and Wrecking Corporation of America. The latter has the Berg demolition contract.

"Without their support we wouldn't be able to offer the intense and practical training we do," Kisner said.

Both the Alexandria and Arlington County departments have been winners in the TRT statewide competitions held each spring. However, this year's awards were not given in order to downplay the competitive element and strengthen the training element, according to Vollmer.

"They felt that only the best of each department were coming and not those that really needed training and exposure to different techniques," he explained. "Now we are getting more firefighters attending and the training is paramount, which increases overall statewide capabilities."