Firefighters learn disaster skills

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013

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A quarry near Bluff was transformed into a disaster site yesterday for a group of southern volunteer firefighters being trained in urban search and rescue.

Twelve volunteer firefighters from throughout Southland spent the afternoon searching for "survivors" under a pile of rubble and large boulders as part of a five-day course to become fully qualified firefighters.

Under the watchful eye of Invercargill senior firefighter Murray Milne-Maresca the volunteers were taught how to assess an urban disaster scene, begin the process of searching for survivors trapped beneath rubble and evacuate any survivors from the scene.

"This is the first time these firefighters have been trained in Usar techniques and it will be a valuable set of skills for the firefighters themselves and for the brigades they are attached to," he said.

Usar involved finding and rescuing people trapped when a structure collapses or as a result of a major landslide or earthquake, Mr Milne-Maresca said.

"These firefighters will be able to be first on the scene if something happens in their area before specialist Usar teams arrive."

The collapse of Stadium Southland in 2010 was an example of the potential need for firefighters trained in Usar, he said.

About 30 people inside the stadium escaped without injury.

The training focused on making sure the firefighters were able to remain calm in a time of stress and at times confusion.

"It is important rescuers remained in control, worked with intensity but in a methodical and professional way," Mr Milne-Maresca said.

Riverton volunteer firefighter Jeremy Raines said the earthquake that devastated Christchurch highlighted the value of Usar skills for emergency service members.

"It is important to have the skills to get people out of a disaster area as quickly as possible but also safely," he said.

"This course shows the value of teamwork, everyone working together and remaining focused."

The course for the volunteer firefighters also included fire theory, work on pumps, hazardous substances and training with helicopter monsoon buckets.

neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

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- The Southland Times

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