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St. Louis County Heavy Rescue Task Force

The Clayton Fire Department is a member of the St. Louis County Heavy Rescue Task Force. This Unit is comprised of a combination of many St. Louis County Fire Departments. These departments all have specialized training to deal with heavy rescue situations, such as building collapse, trench rescue, etc. This team is available to go anywhere in the State of Missouri as requested.

History of the Taskforce
History of the Urban Search and Rescue Concept The concept of developing a “major rescue resource” in the St. Louis metropolitan area resulted from a building collapse incident that took place in the City of St. Louis approximately nine years ago. This incident involved the extrication of one victim from a major collapse in an industrial occupancy. The St. Louis City Fire Department was well equipped with an established Collapse Rescue Task Force at the time. However, the length and intensity of the incident taxed that resource causing them to request help from Missouri Task Force – 1 based in Columbia Missouri. Thankfully the patient was rescued with units on scene after a long and detailed operation and the actual response of MO-TF1 was not necessary.

Following this incident a meeting took place in February of 1998 that included representatives from all agencies with Heavy Rescue capabilities. The topic of the meeting was to discuss forming a single rescue resource comprised of all Heavy Rescue Squads in the area that could be requested to a scene as a single rescue resource in lieu of several separate or individual resources. This resource would provide additional manpower and tools to a scene within minutes instead of hours. Those attending this meeting included Deputy Chief Frank Schaper, Battalion Chief Mike Arras and Greg Gerner from the St. Louis Fire Department, Deputy Chiefs Jim Hampton and Steve Mosotti and Captain Dave Waser from the Mehlville FPD, Assistant Chief Les Crews from the Chesterfield (Monarch) FPD, Chief Bill Brandes from the Creve Coeur FPD, Chief Jim Silvernail and Deputy Chief Joe Johnson from the Metrowest FPD and Deputy Chief Steve Rinehart from the Maryland Heights FPD. After several hours of discussion it soon became apparent that a tremendous commitment from all parties involved would be needed to overcome obstacles recognized at this meeting if this venture were to be a success.

Over the next several months many of the obstacles encountered were overcome by all involved, working as sub committees for each item. Some of these obstacles included staffing, training, equipment inventories and interoperability issues, response parameters, incident types and dispatch procedures. By July of 1998, Heavy Rescue Task Force – 1 had been accepted by the Metro St. Louis Mutual Aid Committee and was recognized as a “working” task force. It consisted of Rescue Squads 4416, 2216, 2316, 3346, 1716, SLFD Squad 1, and Support Units 4499, 3356 and the SLFD Collapse Unit.

Coordination of responses and training issues were the immediate challenges faced by the members of HRTF-1. As the Task Force responded to trench collapses and building collapses a wealth of information was processed by members resulting in ways to improve the Task Force. One thing became increasingly clear - having a single major rescue resource established where personnel were familiar with one another and with each others equipment was a true benefit to the successful outcome of major incidents.

By mid-year 2000 the Task Force had responded to several different incidents and had offered support to the visit of Pope John Paul II (1999).

In 2001 the Task Force saw the need to expand its capabilities from single site responses to multi site responses such as those caused by tornado's, earthquakes, terrorist events or other large scale WMD’s. This decision necessitated the pursuit of additional funding in order to expand the Task Force tool cache and acquire logistical support. Mr. Nick Gragnani of the St. Louis County Local Emergency Planning Committee was contacted. It was determined that the most advantageous way to expand the current Task Force was to bring the tool cache in place to the level where it was comparable to the cache carried by Federal Urban Search and Rescue Teams. This list of tools would allow the local Task Force to function on a level of a Federal Task Force and also provide the beginning path should the transition from a local response to that of a federal level be necessary. A tool inventory was established and funding for that inventory was pursued. After multiple meetings and several hours of fine-tuning the list, additional funding was awarded through the Department of Justice funding program. This additional funding provided for the addition of two (2) trailers, additional breaching and breaking tools, additional shoring equipment, additional rope rescue equipment and technical search equipment to the existing tool cache. Additionally, portable shelters, bathrooms and generators were purchased to further enhance the ability of the Task Force to operate for extended periods of time. It took approximately two years and the use of a local warehouse to receive, inventory, mark and store all of the equipment received.

Throughout the next several months, members of the Task Force trained on the use of the technical search equipment (cameras and listening devices) and the capability of establishing a base of operation (BoO) for extended operational periods. All of this in addition to continued training on the existing tools in the cache.

In March of 2003 another resource was discovered that would add to the capabilities of the Task Force. Representatives from the local Ironworkers Union and Operating Engineers contacted us and offered their expertise in support of the local Urban Search and Rescue efforts. After witnessing the actions taken by these professionals at the World Trade Center disaster, there was no doubt they would be a valuable asset to the Task Force. This however added several new challenges to the Task Force such as, at what point we engage these professionals and exactly what capabilities they have to offer. The answer to these questions and several others were given during training sessions that followed with Ironworkers and Equipment Operators working hand in hand with Task Force members. The information exchanged at these sessions was invaluable. The addition of these personnel to the Task Force roster has provided us with experts in the fields of heavy rigging, metal cutting and crane operations.

In addition, during 2003, the Task Force was fortunate to have a member join who was a Professional Engineer. Dan Bruno, who at the time worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) offered his assistance in support of any efforts the Task Force may undertake. This capability enhanced the Task Force by providing yet another area of professional expertise for such incidents as building collapses and trench collapses where engineering theory could be needed to modify or strengthen existing techniques.

In the fall of 2003, due to the restructuring of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, the St. Louis area was designated as an Urban Area Securities Initiative region. The UASI region included the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Franklin County, Jefferson County and Illinois Counties of Madison, Monroe and St. Clair. Because of this designation another avenue of funding for Urban Search and Rescue operations was provided. The manager for this funding was the St. Louis Area Regional Response System (STARRS). Funding provided through the UASI process was open to any number of organizations including, but not limited to, law enforcement, fire services, hazardous materials teams, hospitals, cities, communication entities, etc. Because of the large group of potential recipients, each group/resource was asked to develop a plan that would benefit the region as a whole, create a foundation for the operation proposed, prove how the plan would work and provide a need’s assessment for the area where the operation/resource was being proposed.

At this point, St. Louis County and St. Louis City had already established the Heavy Rescue Task Force. Simultaneously, St. Charles County and the Jefferson/Franklin County areas had been working to establish a rescue resource in their area and the counties in Illinois had also been developing a rescue resource. Based on this, representatives from all counties involved, met and developed a plan to support all existing rescue resources. The idea was not to create something new but to simply support the efforts of the teams already in place. The expansion effort of each resource would now parallel one another so that each team would acquire matched training, matching tool caches and develop true interoperability between the teams involved. This move opened a new arena of rescue response and presented members with yet another set of challenges to overcome.

Members conducted a risk analysis of the area within the UASI region and decided that the formation of five (5) Rescue Strike Teams would best benefit to the region. These strike teams would be located in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson/Franklin Counties (combined) and Madison/Monroe/St. Clair counties in Illinois (combined). Capabilities of each strike team would include responses to trench collapses, building collapses and major rope rescue/confined space incidents. Additionally, each strike team would have the capability to function for a period of up to 72 hours without any outside support or re-supply. These increased capabilities would directly benefit rescue operations throughout the region whether at a single site incident or in a disaster/multi site setting.

The tool selection purchased for each strike team was again based off of the federal USAR Task Force tool cache. Matching tool inventories would allow each strike team to function as a stand alone resource or allow full interoperability between multiple strike teams at a large scale incident. Transportation assets were also purchased providing each strike team with a tractor trailer response vehicle (Freightliner tractor with a Hackney brand rescue trailer) and a truck and trailer (Ford F-550 and gooseneck style box trailer). The tractor trailer was designed to carry all rescue equipment and the truck and trailer designed to carry all logistical support equipment. The undertaking of coordinating the building of each truck, delivery and inventory of all of the equipment, dissemination of the equipment and development of a load plan for each truck was a monumental task. Several thousand pieces of equipment were delivered between 2004 and 2006 to a staging area in St. Charles and then packaged and shipped to each individual strike team.

Member training was the next challenge. All committee members agreed that personnel responding with the Strike Team should have a minimal amount of training in the specific areas of response. The issue confronted here was that there were only limited “approved” training programs that the funding mechanism (DHS and ODP) would recognize. This resulted in a close relationship with the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute to develop and deliver the needed “approved” materials. Training courses developed included; “Introduction to Technical Rescue”, “Rope Rescue Technician”, “Confined Space Technician”, “Trench Rescue Technician” and “Structural Collapse Technician”. The task to develop and deliver this material in the allotted time frames became another burden for members to overcome. Members from all areas contributed several hundred hours to accomplish and complete this task. The training of Strike Team members began in 2006 and continues at the present time.

The funding provided through STARRS and the UASI program (approximately $5 million dollars through the year 2006) not only allowed the strike teams to acquire needed equipment and develop training programs, it also allowed the opportunity for additional manpower to be trained thus providing additional personnel to the response roster. By having a number of personnel already trained to the technician level of response and acquiring funding to train approximately 100 additional personnel for each strike team, the new training programs were offered to additional fire agencies throughout the area. Due to the structure of the St. Louis County Fire Service, the Training Coordinates Association and their vice presidents for each area were used to solicit personnel. This resulted in several personnel participating from the North, Central, West and South County areas.

Present Status of the Urban Search and Rescue System

The equipment delivery and cache update is ongoing. The overall majority of the equipment has been delivered to each strike team however various pieces of equipment remain in the works. The equipment situation continues to be monitored and handled by members of the five Strike Teams.

A complete series of classes for each venue of Technical Rescue have been completed for St. Louis City, St. Charles, St. Louis and Jefferson/Franklin Counties and Madison/Monroe/St. Clair counties in Illinois.

The transportation assets for each team have been delivered. They are loaded and are in service for all five strike teams. Specific details for arrangement of equipment in each unit (the “load plan”) is ongoing, however all units are in service should they be needed.

The funding mechanism through STARRS and the UASI program is constantly being pursued for current and future needs. Nick Gragnani, now the Executive Director for STARRS continues to work with strike team representatives to make sure every possible effort is made. Budgets for year 2007 have been awarded and for year 2008 are now being analyzed. That being said, it is important to realize that funding amounts are dropping throughout the UASI program and this has affected the St. Louis region in a direct way.

Current Status of St. Louis County Strike Team #3

The current number of participants in Strike Team #3 has reached approximately 200 personnel (combined rescue and support personnel). All rescue personnel have had technician level training in all of the designated venues of technical rescue and are currently working on personal response packs for up to 72 hours of uninterrupted operations with out re-supply. Many of the current members are also certified Fire Officers, Paramedics and Hazardous Materials Technicians and all members are required to be NIMS compliant. Current members of the strike team include participants from the Maryland Heights FPD, Monarch FPD, Creve Coeur FPD, Metrowest FPD, Mehlville FPD, Florissant Valley FPD, Black Jack FPD, West Overland FPD, Pattonville FPD, Community FPD, West County EMS & Fire, Clayton FD, Webster Groves FD, Kirkwood FD, Affton FPD, Fenton FPD, Valley Park FPD, Olivette FD, Glendale FD and University City FD. Command Staff personnel to support Strike Team Leader, Safety, Planning and Logistics positions are also on the roster. There are additional support personnel from the professional trades also in place to support heavy rigging, crane operations and engineering support operations. Sponsorship for each participating member is supported by their home based district/department or professional organization. The commitment to allow personnel to respond and support those personnel with insurance coverage, personal equipment and personal needs is just part of the commitment of the participating agencies.

Current transportation assets include Heavy Rescue Squads 4416, 2216, 2316, 3346, 1756, support units 4499 and 3356, USAR – 1 (rescue equipment trailer, light duty, stationed at Maryland Heights House #1), USAR – 2 (logistics support trailer, light duty, stationed at Maryland Heights House #1), 1759 (logistics support trailer, medium duty, stationed at Mehlville FPD House #5) and 2246 (rescue equipment, heavy duty tractor trailer combo, stationed at Monarch HQ’s). Additional units that have been committed and may respond with the strike team as support units are Engine Company Clayton 3214 and LSV Fenton 1327.

The current organizational structure for the Strike Team is based off of the federal USAR organization. With each response there will be a Strike Team Leader, a Safety Officer, a Search Team Manager, a Rescue Team Manager, a Logistics Section and a Plans Section. Under each, there will be squads assigned for search operations, rescue operations, medical, logistical and ground support and plan development and documentation. This organizational structure can expand or contract to meet the needs of an incident including 24 hour around the clock operations. Additionally, with current assets, Strike Team 3 has the ability to split into several smaller strike teams for multiple site incidents.

Logistical support items include six western shelters, portable generators, portable air conditioner and heating units, portable lighting, sleeping bags, waterless bathroom facilities, showers with water filtration and containment systems. Additionally, the strike team will respond with water and food supplies for up to 72 hours of strike team operations without re-supply from an outside source. Additional communication assets are also assigned to USAR-2 and 2246 to support a large scale operation. The response of an Engine Company and an LSV with the strike team also provides the capabilities to establish medical operations for strike team members should they respond to an area where no medical support would be available and provide a pressurized water source for suppression, rescue or support operations.

Operational response capabilities include pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric breaching and breaking operations (light frame to reinforced concrete), pneumatic and hydraulic lifting operations, interior and exterior structural shoring, trench shoring, metal cutting (cold and hot operations), high and low angle rope rescue techniques and technical search operations (search cameras and seismic listening devices).

Future plans for the Urban Search and Rescue System

The current structure for the Urban Search and Rescue System in St. Louis consists of five strike teams strategically located throughout the UASI region with capabilities to respond as separate strike teams or one large task force to an incident anywhere they are requested. The future however will demand that each strike team become more self sufficient by building and acquiring resources to support additional capabilities that may include but not be limited to; an enhanced medical capability, satellite communication systems, water rescue capabilities (equipment for this has been acquired, specialized training will be needed), wilderness search and rescue and hazardous materials WMD training. Additional transportation assets may be required to meet the needs of the additional capabilities. More professional trades may need to be involved to enhance capabilities for long duration incidents.

In summary, this document should leave the reader with an overall view of how the current system came about, where its capabilities stand and the direction the system will be moving in the future. The reader should keep in mind that this concept is not a new concept, Urban Search and rescue teams have been in existence for some time at the federal level. This system however brings that capability to the local/regional level decreasing response times, greatly enhancing immediate search and rescue operations. Additionally, by modeling the St. Louis system after the federal system, any transition necessary for a long duration incident should be improved resulting in continuous Urban Search and Rescue operations.

I would be in error if I failed to compliment all of the core members who have spent countless hours in the development and implementation of the current system. The list would be too long if I tried to mention each person and what they did individually. I can assure everyone the individuals that I speak of are true leaders and visionaries and I am fortunate to be in their company. Also, to the agencies who have decided to support their personnel in this effort, you are to be commended for having the vision and foresight to know that a disaster can strike at any time and know that this type of resource will be invaluable when the large scale incident occurs in our area. Finally, to each member who has made the overwhelming commitment to endure the training and continue their participation with the team, hoping they will never be needed for such a response but knowing it could happen tomorrow. I commend you.