In February 2010, the Canadian Forces deployed firefighters and search and rescue technicians, including a cave rescue specialist, to carry out urban search and rescue work in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there. It was the first time Canada had deployed such a team.
Since then, a Light Urban Search and Rescue (LUSAR) component of the Disaster Assistance Response Team has been introduced. The progress of this important new capability has been spearheaded by 19 Wing Comox, B.C.
The team officially stood up two years ago and in September, the team’s final draft mandate was announced and the team was ready to begin exercises.
There are two teams in the LUSAR component of the DART, based at 19 Wing and at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont. Both teams are composed of firefighters who undergo “structural collapse level one and two” and “technical rope rescue” training at the Manitoba Emergency Services Training Center in Brandon, Man.
At the end of September, the 19 Wing LUSAR team participated in a structural collapse exercise at the old 21 Health Services Clinic in Comox, where members performed reconnaissance of the building for structural damage and identified the locations of simulated victims. The team then entered through the roof and made structural breaches within the damaged structure to remove the injured.
The next exercise was conducted at the Upana Caves near Gold River, B.C. The three-day exercise began with half the team driving to the site and the other half flying in on CH-149 Cormorant Helicopter from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing. The team was hoisted to a road next to a river where two simulated casualties who required first aid and medical evacuation (medevac), were located.
The second half of the exercise involved a navigation exercise and cave extrications. The navigation course incorporated several waypoints in the dense forest near Gold River. It evaluated the team’s ability to navigate using only map and compass as well as their ability to read terrain and identify key land features to aid in accurate navigation.
The team used the caves because they closely simulate the confined spaces of a damaged structure. Members had to navigate through the dark using a “breadcrumb technique” of leaving glow sticks along their paths. The glow sticks enabled follow-on team members to locate the entry team and simulated casualties, as well as find the exit on their return.
With the unpredictability of the cave layout, the team found that standard search patterns were not as useful as they would be during the search of a structure.
Once the teams located the “casualties”, they administered modified first aid that involved a quick primary survey of the casualty to stop life-threatening injuries such as severe bleeding. They then extricated the casualty from the depths of the cave, using various rope systems. The Reeves Sleeve is the preferred tool for extractions, as it has a rigid spine board inside a wrap-around sleeve, and permits the casualty to be hoisted either vertically or horizontally.
Once outside of the hazardous environment, the team members administered advanced first aid, ensuring that all injuries were tended before bringing the casualty to the evacuation site.
The exercise was a huge success: excellent training, team bonding and, most of all, realistic scenarios. By maintaining a high level of readiness training, the 19 Wing LUSAR team will be ready to respond to disaster, above ground or below.
Full photo caption: 19 Wing’s LUSAR team (from left to right) WO Joseph DeBalinhard (team leader) Sgt Kevin Stevens (second-in-command) and team members MCpl Charles Wigger, Cpl Clayton Carsh, Pte Joshua Dewar and Cpl Daniel Woods extract an “injured” hiker through a log pile inside Upana Cave under the supervision of MWO Denis Rutherford, wing deputy fire chief and Lt John Paradis, wing fire chief.