Aiming to provide high-level training about structural collapse search and rescue operations, the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) launched a new US&R Rescue Specialist Certificate program in June. While the program has only been in place for a couple months, so far 38 responders worldwide have completed the required courses to be eligible to receive the certificate.

Major disasters like 9/11 have spurred awareness around the need for improved emergency response when structures have been damaged resulting in collapse, according to the program’s graduates. Explosions, fires and car crashes are all other examples of situations that may cause structural collapse and therefore demand a specialized response.

“Being an emergency responder, the main purpose is to save people; to save lives,” said Troy Osgood, a technical rescue instructor for the Boston Fire Department who completed the certificate program. “If you know there are people trapped in a building and the building’s falling down, and you really can’t do your job, it kind of defeats the purpose of actually having your job.”

Brian Smith, the program’s coordinator, said the certificate is unique in that only a select few are eligible for the program, but it’s helping firefighters and responders gain the skills needed to perform better during urban search and rescue incidents. Responders from Massachusetts, Canada, the UK, Ohio, New Jersey, Iowa and Florida have earned the advanced certificate from TEEX.

Although a college degree isn't required, qualifying to participate in the US&R Rescue Specialist Certificate program is no simple feat. To be eligible, emergency responders are required to complete more than 300 hours of advanced training in structural collapse rescue operations and additional specialized search and rescue training, according to TEEX. Much of the certificate program is based on curriculum and standards developed by the FEMA National US&R Response System.

Certificate Requirements

Program participants must complete six courses and can take some of the lower-level courses through other university programs, which include an 80-hour structural collapse technician course and a 50-hour rope rescue course.  However, to complete the certificate, individuals are required to take three upper-level courses -- Advanced Structural Collapse 3, 4 and 5 (all 50 hours each) -- at TEEX. Completing all six courses must be done within seven years from when the first course was completed, according to the TEEX website.

Brian Harting, a team leader for the Ohio Region 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team and career firefighter for the Bedford Fire Department, completed the program recently after receiving federal funding to attend. Prior to the certificate training program, he participated in many county disaster drills, including one in April that focused on a simulated terrorist attack at the Cleveland Indians baseball stadium.

During Harting's course work at TEEX, one component he found valuable was learning about new technology that’s been incorporated into structural collapse response training. For example, during one of TEEX’s advanced level courses, he was trained on operating a Controlled Impact Rescue Tool, a technology developed by Raytheon used to breach through hard materials like concrete. The tool can come in handy when extracting victims stuck under debris after a building or structure collapses.

“It basically is a system that uses an explosive charge, and each strike of the tool is equivalent to about 20 swings of a sledge hammer,” Harting said. During time-sensitive situations like disaster response, technology that makes the rescue faster is important, he said.

Technology aside, Harting said staying up to speed on the latest response tactics will help him in the future. 

Osgood, who completed his entire certificate course work at TEEX, said the training was unlike other programs currently available. The certification from TEEX could advance his skills as well as his career in the disaster response field. “You have some type of ability that not a lot of people have,” Osgood said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.