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Wisconsin first responders watching Miami building collapse rescue closely

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 4:29 PM CDT
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - Building collapses like the one in Miami are rare, but local Northeast Wisconsin responders still train and are prepared should the unthinkable happen.

The scenes out of Miami are heartbreaking to see. More than 150 people are still unaccounted for at the time of this writing. Local first responders are closely watching things unfold.

“It’s just a horrible tragedy. I can’t imagine the situation for the responders, obviously from my point of view, but the families and everybody involved is, it’s just a horrible tragedy,” says Capt. Jim Wamser with Fond du Lac Fire Rescue.

Fond du Lac Fire Rescue doesn’t have a specific urban search and rescue team, but it does deal with confined space rescue, understanding the tedious work that goes into a situation like what’s happening in Miami. “They’ll start by trying to focus, using listening devices and cameras and try to focus their efforts if they would hear something, but then as days go on, I’m sure they will just begin to kind of peel everything apart,” adds Wamser.

In 2017, members of the Appleton Fire Department, which has members trained in urban search and rescue, were put to task, helping in the rescue and recovery of the Didion Mill explosion victims in Cambria. When incidents like that happen, specialized rescuers need to be brought in to help.

One of those responders is Appleton Battalion Chief Dough Vrechek. About the Didion explosion response, he says, “We were down there for about 36 hours, and we worked in that building recovering the last two people that were missing on that one and they were both found deceased.”

Operations like the one at the Didion Mill and currently going on in Miami are time consuming. The precision at which these rescue teams need to work is so exact because of the risk to first responders and any victims. Urban search and rescue personnel in Wisconsin start with at least 600 hours of training. According to Vrechek, “We have guys that are trained in crane and heavy rigging. We’ve got, all of us are trained for heavy concrete cutting and torches and all those kinds of things. That’s what we train on.”

And because it’s so specialized, and not every department has a team, when incidents happen it’s all hands on deck with mutual aid coming from wherever it can.

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