What happens when a building collapses? Utah Task Force 1 commander knows dangers first-hand

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A special team of firefighters, structural engineers, and canines is trained and prepared if anything like the Surfside, Florida condominium collapse ever happens here.

They’re the Unified Fire Authority’s Task Force 1, specialists in urban search and rescue operations like the one unfolding right now in Florida.

Division Chief Bryan Case knows all too well what the first responders in Florida are dealing with. He was deployed with Task Force 1 to search the rubble of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attack.

“We were looking for and in some cases, finding body parts,” Chief Case told ABC4 News. “There was no flat ground. The smell was just heavy in the air all around you.”

Chief Case calls Thursday’s condo disaster a “pancake collapse,” one that’s similar to Ground Zero on a smaller scale.

“They know there’s very few large void spaces where someone, if they were trapped, that they would have a good chance of survival,” he said. “A pancake collapse indicates to us that there’s not really many survivable spaces…If there are survivors, in the first few days, you’re going to send in the canines that are amazingly trained and amazingly efficient tools to tell us if there is a viable victim somewhere in that rubble. We use technical cameras, technical listening devices and that’s kind of the first phase.”

Chief Case says this will remain a rescue effort for days until officials declare it a recovery operation. For first responders, it’s dangerous and difficult work, physically and emotionally, the type of scenario Task Force 1 trains for in case of a major earthquake along the Wasatch Fault.

“If we get a 7.0 here, that’s really what we should expect to see is these types of collapses,” Chief Case said. “It’s not just the collapse, it’s a lot of other things. It’s the natural gas, it’s the water filling up in a basement where people might be trapped. Nobody thinks of a drowning in a structure collapse scenario, but those are all these threats we need to be aware of.”

Chief Case tells ABC4 there is a small glimmer of hope, noting that following Hurricane Matthew, survivors were pulled out of collapsed buildings in Haiti five days after the storm.

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