Volume 3 Number 30
July 24, 2006

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Training has been funded by $32 million in Homeland Security funds

Most tests involve paper, a pencil and maybe a calculator, but this one involved concrete, steel and human resolve.

On July 20,
members of the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces from Tampa Bay, Central Florida, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Volusia County completed intensive structural collapse training at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. The "victims" and the scenario were props, but the work was all real, said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s state fire marshal.

“Florida has one of the most well-prepared response systems in the country,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Division of State Fire Marshal which provided the training. “We have ensured that all of our emergency responders get hands-on training so that they are as prepared as possible for any disaster here at home.”

The final exam had students cutting through poured concrete, concrete block and steel to rescue “victims” trapped in apartments and cars in a collapsed parking garage. The test wrapped up an 80-hour course that followed 264 hours of mechanical, trench, confined space and rope rescue training. Funding for the training and the facility comes from more than $32 million in U.S. homeland security funds that have been pumped into Florida and administered by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The US&R training center at the State Fire College provides specialized and live-fire training and is the only "post-blast" collapse simulator in the United States providing fire and smoke conditions.

Since September 11, 2001, the number of US&R task forces in Florida has grown from two to nine. Those task forces are located in the Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida areas, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Central Florida (Orlando, Orange County, Seminole County) North Central Florida (Marion County, Alachua County, Gainesville, Ocala) and Volusia. Two FEMA US&R task forces are located in the Miami area, and the nine task forces comprise the Florida Urban Search and Rescue System.

More than $1 million in homeland security funds have been spent to train and equip each of seven state task forces, including providing each with a tractor-trailer response truck stocked with tools and equipment to respond to a wide range of emergencies. In addition, local governments have been supported with some of the personnel costs incurred during training.

The two FEMA task forces in Florida responded following the terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, and all nine provided critic
al assistance during the past two hurricane seasons both in Florida and Mississippi.

Homeland security funds have also helped establish and equip 50 technical rescue teams and supplement the 28 existing regional hazardous materials teams, as well as provide almost 300,000 hours
of training to nearly 1,700 first responders serving on these teams.

“Because of the work of these men and women and their commitment to protect Florida’s citizens,” Gallagher said, “our state is better prepared and equipped to respond to any threat, protecting our families and making our communities safer.”