one city block

“Victim, if you can hear me, keep tapping on something!”

It started slowly, almost imperceptibly. I pressed the headphones tighter to my head with one hand and turned the volume up.

tap… tap… tap…

It was definitely there, and it was clear as day.

tap… tap… tap…

Whoever was under the rubble had heard us, and their soft taps of flesh on concrete were the only indication that they were still alive.

Nobody else could hear it—-only the Delsar operator wearing the headset. I turned on the electronic filters designed to eliminate electrical hums and the rumble of apparatus, and started to triangulate the sound.

We had placed three of the sensor “pucks” out in a three-pronged attack on the pile of destroyed concrete and rebar beneath us. The other rescuers stood dead still, avoiding making any extraneous noise during this most crucial of times.

Hmm… it’s not so loud on Number 1. A bit stronger on Number 2; and all quiet on Number 3.

“Alright, let’s move ‘em around; it’s loudest near Two.”

And so the process went, calling and tapping and moving and listening.


Con-Space Communications, Ltd., the makers of the Delsar LifeDetector Seismic/Acoustic listening system (as well as the SearchCams we utilized that day to find our “victims”) was a company started in the early 90′s as a high-tech revolution to the methods of urban search and rescue in use at the time. Today, they’re one of the largest manufacturers of audio, video, and acoustic devices used to locate trapped victims in environments all over the world.

Utilizing the Delsar system and SearchCam devices, the Engine and Rescue Squad trained on finding victims in one of the simplest, yet most intriguing training sites I’ve been to yet. In Crofton, MD, there’s a pile of concrete and rubble that amounts to about one city block of destruction.

Arranged in a giant U-shape and up to twenty-plus feet in height in some places, the site offers plenty of void spaces for us to practice in.


“I got one!”

The firefighter crouched down on his haunches and shouted back to the group. Cazo—our trusty K-9—had located a victim and alerted us; shortly thereafter, a SearchCam probe inserted into a dark hole revealed a human form. He was dusty, but he was there.

After we had removed the random mixture of pallets, old carpet, and torso-sized hunks of what was once a building, Mike stood up and smiled at us.

“Man, it’s dark as shit down there!”

We laughed as we helped him out of the hole, and moved onto the next evolution. Three hours later, it was clear that we have some very powerful tools at our disposal for the various situations that we may encounter on a true building collapse.

But the emphasis, as with most things, can be placed back on basics. Fancy toys are nice, but don’t always take the place of tried-and-true methods like hailing–just shout to any victims who can hear and listen for a response. Anyone trapped can then be triangulated by rescuers placed strategically around the site.

A special thanks must be offered to Sgt. Holmes and Lt. Kauffman, who helped all the companies out with the drill (especially the Lieutenant, who spent most of the day wedging himself into tight spaces as the victim!)

Also, we can’t forget Cazo! Some of you may remember my post about two of our own working in Haiti. He’s one badass dog.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
November 2010
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