I was fortunate enough to be working on Wednesday, October 11th, when the U.S. Army hosted a wide variety of agencies and organizations to take part in the Capital Shield Drill—in no other location than our very own DCFD Training Academy in Southwest Washington.
As you can see by the image below, the Technical Rescue Operations that we (members of Rescue Company 3 and Engine 15) took part in was only a small portion of the military's agenda for Capital Shield.
Please note the most excellent graphic logo at the top of the page—no, not the overly wordy "National Capital Region" one. The sword crossing the Washington Monument is the shoulder sleeve insignia of the Military District of Washington, headquartered at Ft. McNair on the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. A military base for more than 200 years, Ft. McNair is bested in length-of-service by only the military academy at West Point and the U.S. Army War College's Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. A few months back, we ran a box alarm for a reported fire in one of the (many) huge mansions maintained by the Army for various high-ranking officers (including the Army's Vice-Chief of Staff, the position of which is afforded a permanent residence within Ft. McNair). It's a beautifully-maintained, expansive space that is quite clearly military residences. I would have taken pictures, but you know how those Army fellas can be about cameras…
Either way, the scenario for this year's drill was the following: The eponymous "Capital Hotel" was the target of a bombing and subsequent collapse. This produced a large rubble pile (including debris from the parking structure for the hotel), within which lay several viable victims. Four entry points were available—according to the Army's plan—and there were "spotters" all over the site to direct rescuers who had any questions or requested any clarification regarding the scenario and our limitations within.
Enjoy the pictures and captions below!
What remains of the Capital Hotel.
There was definitely some creative forklifting/machinery work done here.
Planning is crucial, both on the part of the "rescuers" and the organizers. Each bit of progress required constant vigilance to ensure that the scenario would continue as planned—otherwise, a new approach would need to be formulated.
The fluorescent yellow band indicated a spotter who watched for safety hazards and ensured that the participants followed the rules/limitations of the give scenario.
Lt. Chris Holmes and Cazo (who you may remember from this post, when they were deployed to Haiti) were some of the first DCFD members "on-scene," searching for and marking locations of potential victims while the technical rescue team examined the rubble.
Initial victims were able to be removed after only a bit of work with hand tools and shovels, as they were located toward the outskirts of the pile. Victims deeper within would have to wait until a more intensive plan was devised, ensuring the safety of victims and rescuers alike.
DCFD's entry point was a concrete tube with an approximately two-foot interior diameter. Throughout the tube, several obstacles of varying materials had been placed, forcing rescuers to breach through several levels before reaching victims.
Inter-agency drills afford different departments the ability to check out what gear their neighbors are using. The Army's own had quite the assortment, obsessively organized (as only the military can do).
Other entry points into the rubble pile (and the victims that lie beneath) were under or through concrete, requiring creative use of levers. (Author's note: I got a very "Iwo Jima" vibe from this photo as the men pictured struggled to raise a large slab of concrete, I enjoyed shooting it and trying to grab that moment in time.)
One of the more interesting points of entry was through the floor of a vehicle on its side. Following the breach of the floorboards, victims had been placed several meters down a long, rectangular concrete tunnel seen extending off the left side of the photo.
"Whose turn is it to be the man-in-the-hole?"
At any given time, there were dozens of rescuers working on and around the pile. Simultaneously, multiple organizations were operating pneumatic chisels, electric saws, cutting torches, and countless other tools.
There's nothing like lunch on a rubble pile, right?
When it was determined that the oxyacetylene torch would be necessary for [DCFD's] entry point, rescuers in the hole had a four-gas meter clipped to them and a ventilation fan blowing fresh air into the tube while they were operating.
Author's note: one of the reasons I love this job is because I get to play with (and perhaps, one day, become proficient with) tools and toys that I would never have encountered or even touched otherwise. Before I came on the job, I had never even seen an oxyacetylene torch in operation—before I had finished my probation, I was cutting sloppy "E15"s into an old scrap of I-beam. After lunch, our team had to cut through a panel of Conex box/shipping container that stood between us and a victim. I crawled in that surprisingly-small tube and cut out a good portion of the double-walled steel, reluctantly giving up the torch only when the officers told someone else to take a turn. I have to say, it's a different experience doing something like that in a cramped space, as opposed to having all the room in the world.
8 a.m. to about 5 p.m. proved to be a very long day. But the punishment didn't stop there—after packing up all the equipment we had laid out and used all day, back we went to Southeast. We ran calls for the rest of the night, with concrete dust on our uniforms and smiles on our faces. Tired, but more learned and feeling like we put in a good days' work.