Monday, March 22, 2010

Just another week in TEEX's Disaster City®

There's been a lot going on at TEEX's Disaster City®. The Aggie-led 84th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD-CST) from Casper, Wyoming, finished a week of training, simulations and drills. At the same time, a Structural Collapse Technician II class of 18 completed completed two weeks of training.
We all remember the horrible earthquake in Haiti. Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1), of which I'm the public information officer, was activated and prepared to deploy to the island. As teams arrived in Haiti and the situation was assessed, limited runway, port and logistics concerns caused Texas Task Force 1 as well as several other teams to stand down.
One can't help but be disappointed when this happens. We were "all dressed up with no place to go" so to speak. However, the system is understood, and it works. We'll treat it as an exercise and learn what we can.
TX-TF1 trains well here at our 52-acre Disaster City® Campus, but there is no substitute for what we learn when we employ our training in a real situation. Disaster City® has excellent props and the finest, most experienced instructors in the world, but the men and women who did deploy to Haiti came back with real knowledge and stories that TEEX instructors and clients need to hear.
Luckily, we have several good friends on the teams that did deploy. Of the 28 FEMA task forces scattered throughout the United States and it's territories, many have trained with TEEX. Phone calls were made and offers extended. After returning to the mainland and spending a few days with family, three members of New York Task Force 1 (NY-TF1) boarded an airplane for Texas A&M's Easterwood Airport for five days of debriefing at Disaster City®.
New York City Police Detectives Phil Pietrunti and Soeren Lygum, along with Randy Miller, deployed to Haiti as members of the New York Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team on Jan. 16, 2010, where they made six rescues. Both Pietrunti and Lygum said the event that stands out the most is the rescue of two children, ages 8 and 12, who were buried in the rubble of their two-story home. When the team arrived at the collapsed building, the children's father had been trying to dig them out with a crowbar for eight days.

Brian Freeman, who coordinated their trip to College Station, was determined to get as much information and exposure out of them as possible during their 5-day stay. So, they started by having Phil & Soeren speak directly to the two groups going through training at Disaster City®. Both groups appreciated the frank description of their experiences and what did and didn't work.
The second day, after meeting with local media, Detectives Pietrunti and Lygum sat down with TEEX Adjunct Brian Beadnell, Clint Arnett, & Daniel May for an extended focus-group about New York Task Force 1's role in the rescue operation. As professionals we know that no matter how well we plan, circumstances will change, and we'll have to adapt. Here are just a few of the things that emerged from the discussion:
  • A database is essential in tracking people and equipment.
  • We had the only forklift at the airport for quite a while. We had to learn how to balance the resources available to us.
  • Remaining self-sufficient was always on our minds. We brought enough food and water for 72 hours, none for showers.
  • Civilians were essential allies as translators and communicators, telling us where people were buried.
  • Hand-held GPS's work much better with maps. Our techy communications officer improvised to get us what we needed. Essential (techy communications officer).
  • If buildings are built to U.S. Code, they are less likely to fall down.
  • 1kw generators are too small.
  • The toll on civilians was horrendous, many begging us to dig out the bodies of dead family members.
The information exchanged in the focus group was invaluable and sobering. According to Pietrunti, after an experience like Haiti, "You don't sweat the small stuff. You realize how lucky and blessed you are."

On Saturday night, we were proud to introduce Detectives Pietrunti and Lygum at the Baylor vs. Texas A&M's Women's Basketball game. Women's basketball is a favorite winter passion here in the Brazos Valley, and Reed Arena was packed. The detectives seemed humbled by the attention, but I know they appreciated the support.

We were fortunate to host Randy, Phil & Soeren and deeply appreciate the time they took away from their jobs and family to share their experiences from Haiti. They voiced their appreciation for the opportunity to share, and felt honored that TEEX called and gave them a chance to pass on what they learned to everyone in the rescue community.

Just another week in Disaster City®.

Brian Smith is the public information officer for Texas Task Force 1.

Friday, March 5, 2010

TEEX Annual Fire Schools - A Hot Time in College Station

It's spring in College Station, and that means it’s time to begin our annual fire school season at the Brayton Fire Training Field. The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI) will be welcoming almost 300 firefighters from all over the world next week at our Annual Spring Fire Training School, which runs from March 7-12, 2010.

Spring school is always fun because it’s when we teach many of our specialty courses. When I became a firefighter back in 1978, we knew we were going to put out several structure fires every day. That's what firefighters did back then. Today when the bell sounds, the 21st-century firefighter faces a whole range of unique scenarios that require specialized training. We can show a participant the equivalent of five years of different fires and scenarios in just one week at our facility.
Some available courses for next week's Spring Fire Training School include:
  • CAFS - Compressed Air Foam Systems & Class “A” Foam
  • Firefighting and Officer Safety
  • Propane Emergencies
  • Rescue II Trench Rescue
  • Structural Firefighting
  • Firefighter Training/Intro to Wildland Fire Behavior
  • NIMS Incident Command System 300 & 400
  • Emergency Response to Rescue Operations (ERRO): New Vehicle Technology and Strategies
We have postponed some sections because of reduced enrollment caused by our slow economy. For this reason, it's important that fire administrators remember that funds are available for many of our courses under House Bill 2604, which the Texas Legislature passed to help Texas rural fire departments send their personnel to training. Departments can send up to 10 people to each school, and have their tuition and noon meal covered by the almost $23 million available in the program. For further information on applying for these funds, please visit the Texas Forest Service HB 2604 Web page, or our Funding and Grants Website.

We have another unique training event taking place
at the end of March in Austin, Texas. The 55th Annual Arson Investigator's Seminar will run from March 21-26, 2010, at the Omni Hotel. There is renewed interest in arson investigative procedures in Texas, and we are expecting peace officers from many state and national public and private agencies to attend. Participants will receive up-to-date information on fire-cause determination, arson investigation and prosecution, as well as technology that will aid them in protecting the citizens of Texas against arson.

On July 11-16, our "hot" summer schedule kicks in with TEEX's Spanish Fire Training School, or Escuela en EspaƱol. Over 800 personnel from 22 Spanish-speaking countries will descend on Bryan/College Station to train in their own language at TEEX's Brayton Fire Training Field. It is a unique opportunity to expose these firefighters to TEEX and The Texas A&M University System and is usually enjoyed by both participants and the local residents.
The Industrial Fire School follows from July 19-23, 2010, when 500-700 industrial fire and safety personnel will have the choice among a broad range of classes designed to address specific industry needs using the most advanced methodologies available in the fire training world. Our classes range from national certification courses (e.g., NFPA 1081, Standard for Industrial Fire Brigade, Professional Qualifications) to customized courses designed to meet the specific training needs of a client's industrial facility.
Finally, July 25-31, 2010, is our Municipal Fire School. This school brings over 2,400 fire prevention, suppression, control and safety personnel from municipalities, industries, state and federal agencies, as well as the armed services to Bryan/College Station for one week of training with our highly qualified and experienced instructors. Preceding the Municipal Fire School is our Annual Vendor Show, held at Texas A&M University's Reed Arena. With the biggest and best fire and rescue equipment in the world on display, the vendor show is a big hit with both fire school participants and the residents of the Brazos Valley.

In addition to the busy annual schedule, there are usually 200 fire service personnel training with us on any given week. Every year, over 54,000 personnel train at the Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station. These visitors stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and purchase our Texas, TEEX and Texas A&M souvenirs. I like to think that they leave Aggieland with the best training available anywhere in the world along with a good dose of Texas hospitality.
TEEX has been providing unsurpassed fire training for emergency responders since 1929, when the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas selected Texas A&M University as the site for a permanent firefighter training school. Worldwide, TEEX's Emergency Services Training Institute trains and touches over 81,000 personnel annually from all 50 states and 45 countries.
For further information on our programs or the Brayton Fire Training Field, please visit http://teex.org/fire, or call us at 866-878-8900. We're going to have a “hot” time this summer, so come join us

Harvie Cheshire is coordinator for TEEX's annual fire schools.