The temperature was nearly 100 degrees on a typical June day in College Station. But the heat did not deter the firefighters from the United Kingdom from their mission.
They were feverishly cutting through concrete and shoring up a passageway in order to rescue a “victim” in a residence at Disaster City at the TEEX National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Field. This was just one of several scenarios the group tackled on this last day of their two-week class in Basic Structural Collapse and Technical Search.
The 24 firefighters traveled here from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Why were they braving the heat of a Texas summer? The answer: Dave Dickson and the quality of the TEEX urban search and rescue (USAR) training.
After 9-11, U.K. government officials wanted to expand the nation’s search and rescue capabilities, so they called on Dickson, a team leader of the U.K. Search and Rescue Team, and charged him with seeking out the best training available.
Dickson, a firefighter from West Sussex and training adviser for Her Majesty’s Fire Service Inspectorate, says he knew of the reputation of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the task force system. He believed it would be a good pattern for the U.K. to follow.
So two months after 9-11, Dickson and a small group of officials came to look at training facilities and programs in the U.S. Major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., were on the itinerary, but, at a friend’s suggestion, the group made a side trip to College Station.
“We came here and Bob McKee showed us around,” Dickson recalls. “We felt this training was absolutely ideal for our needs, because this facility (Disaster City) was built especially for USAR training, and other facilities we had seen were more temporary. In the U.K., we have strict safety rules and regulations, and this was a quality facility that met the occupational safety and health standards. Plus, it was the only place we found that could handle the number of students we wanted to train.”
The U.K. plans to send about 300 firefighters through the TEEX-USAR training during the next 12 months, Dickson said. Starting in September, The U.K. has a contract for one class a month for eight months.
“This is a good choice because TEEX is part of a big university system and can handle our travel and lodging needs,” Dickson said. “Plus, the town of College Station is a nice place and the people are friendly. The weather is the downside–we’re struggling with the heat and humidity.
“FEMA and TX-TF1 are 5 to 10 years ahead of us, but our learning curve will be less since we can take advantage of their experiences. We can adapt this system to our needs,” says Dickson, a veteran of search and rescue operations at the Montserrat volcanic eruption and two earthquakes in Turkey. “We’re also looking at the equipment used here that the U.K. may wish to add to our cache.
“This operational joining together would be beneficial to both the U.S. and the U.K.,” he added. “If we use the same equipment and procedures, our teams could help each other in a disaster.”
Dickson said the U.K. is planning to build a small version of Disaster City at The Fire Service College, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, England. The facility will be similar to the skills training area at Disaster City, but will be enclosed so firefighters can train during inclement weather. It is expected to be completed by April 2004, he added.