Rescue teams bulk up

Rescue teams bulk up

September 8, 2006
The Record

A Paterson tenement collapses and firefighters are unsure how many people are trapped inside. They do their best to get to possible survivors, but a paucity of search and rescue equipment hinders their efforts. They're forced to watch and wait helplessly as vital minutes pass before assistance arrives.

The scenario was a very real possibility for firefighters in the Silk City, in Hackensack, and in West New York -- pretty much all of North Jersey, with the state's search and rescue team based in Lakehurst.

But a fleet of shiny new rescue trucks unveiled Thursday at Liberty State Park in Jersey City will help change that, authorities said. The trucks -- neatly arranged in a crescent in what once was the shadow of the Twin Towers -- will be used by a new Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Strike Team aimed at responding quickly across the region.

The vehicles are similar to firetrucks, but act as large, rolling toolboxes, complete with all the gear needed for rescue operations -- hydraulic spreaders, generators, winches, jacks, cutting torches and an array of saws.

Hackensack's new rig -- paid for, like the others, by the state and federal governments -- is a vital piece of apparatus that the city couldn't have afforded on its own.

"It's a tremendous resource that we are able to deploy within the city," said Hackensack Fire Chief Joel Thornton. "The people of Hackensack have benefited by gaining an apparatus fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for not only day-to-day emergencies, but large-scale emergencies."

In addition, Thornton said, the city now has "the backup where, at any moment, we can have four other specialized units respond into the city if it's needed."

The 500-member Metro USAR Strike Team consists of fire departments from Bayonne, Elizabeth, Hackensack, Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and the five-municipality North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, along with police officers from New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

It will complement the state's USAR team, New Jersey Task Force 1.

"Obviously the main thing for Paterson is that we don't have the financial abilities to do what this program does for the city," said Fire Chief Michael Postorino. "Now we have the training to take it beyond the initial phases and start search and rescue."

Beyond sharing the equipment, strike force members train together, fostering cohesiveness among departments, officials said.

The key to the new endeavor, authorities said, is that all participating departments have signed mutual-aid agreements and are available to respond throughout the region -- even across state lines -- as a large rescue force.

"When you merge talent, the result is greater than the sum of the individual parts," said Brian McEldowny, chief of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue.

Strike team members receive a minimum of 120 hours of training in structural collapse rescue, trench rescue, confined space rescue and rope and rigging.

In addition, some team members participated in a transportation tunnel rescue exercise simulated in a West Virginia mine tunnel.

"Today we have the equipment. Today we have the coordination," said state Assemblyman Albio Sires, D-West New York. "With this equipment we will be able to respond, whether it is to a terrorist attack or natural disaster, much more quickly."

The strike team has received approximately $11 million for equipment and training from federal homeland security funds distributed by the state. Each truck costs about $500,000.

"It's fabulous to have these resources and our men being trained," said Hackensack Mayor Karen Sasso. "And all this is happening without any expense to our taxpayers."


Comments (1)

Kevin Keddy
Said this on 3-6-2008 At 12:20 pm
I liked reading this.

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