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Tucson Fire Chief knows challenge of condo collapse

Worked with world-class structure rescue team
Posted at 7:56 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 22:56:52-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As crews work through the wreckage of the Florida condo collapse, Tucson’s Fire Chief knows very well the challenges they face. Chief Chuck Ryan served with a structure rescue team called in for dangerous rescues around the world.

Moving debris at the condo collapse requires meticulous care and understanding the special engineering of a building collapse where moving the wrong piece could trigger a new collapse that could turn rescuers into victims.

Tucson Fire Chief Chuck Ryan says, “It's definitely a highly technical process, very methodical and slow. These USAR-urban search and rescue teams have structural specialists, structural engineers that travel with them, as well as trained firefighters who are also rescuers and technical rescue structural collapse, cave in and things of that nature.”

Chief Ryan has led teams working to save lives in disasters like the one in South Florida.

He served as an Assistant Chief with Fire Rescue in Fairfax County Virginia---that department has a rescue team so skilled FEMA and the U.S. State Department have called them to more than 100 incidents around the country and around the world.

Even in the dangerous world of firefighting, entering a collapsed structure is a special danger.

Chief Ryan says, “It's part of what we do as firefighters is search and rescue, and this collapse rescue and confined space rescue, it's not for everybody, certainly, but it's one of the things that fire departments do.”

And he says Tucson Firefighters are prepared for challenging rescues.

“Tucson Fire is responsible for training and helping to supply most of the southern Arizona fire departments with technical rescue training and equipment to include structural collapse, cave in, trench rescue, high angle stuff, palm tree rescue rescuing window washers off of buildings. So we have an internal technical rescue capability, but not certainly on the scale that is brought to bear by a FEMA certified team.”

In a case like the Florida collapse, time reduces the chance of survivors but Chief Ryan says compared to other structures, reinforced concrete as used in the condo can be strong enough to hold open small spots where someone could live.

“Other than this pancake style collapse, they tend to provide greater voids, for providing some chance of survivability for trapped victims, a pancake collapse obviously is what it sounds like and that kind of reduces the opportunity for those void spaces, but light lighter weight unreinforced concrete, wood, adobe type structures when they collapse, they come down completely and there's actually a much lower survivability rate in those unreinforced structures.”