Calgary

Calgary-based rescue team hones skills in debris-strewn former prison

From a collapsed basement at the foot of an elevator shaft to a helicopter that crashed into a building, there was no shortage of scenarios for Calgary-based Canada Task Force 2 during a recent training exercise with some of the best in the business.

Canada Task Force 2 learned from some of the best at immense U.S. facility

One of the props CTF2 trained on involved a helicopter that had crashed into a building. (Canada Task Force 2)

From a collapsed basement at the foot of an elevator shaft to a helicopter that crashed into a building, there was no shortage of scenarios for Calgary-based Canada Task Force 2 (CTF2) during a recent training exercise with some of the best in the business.

The team, comprised entirely of volunteers, is one of five heavy urban rescue teams in Canada ready to deploy to emergencies across the country. In order to hone their skills, they recently travelled to an immense training facility in the U.S.

"We had an incredible opportunity to go down to Fairfax County, Virginia, where we participated in a full-scale, 60-hour exercise on one of their training facilities down there and had the opportunity to learn from Virginia Task Force 1," said Susan Henry, the deputy chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency and one of the commanders of CTF2.

Realistic disaster replication

Henry said the Virginia task force is considered one of the best in the world and has experience with international deployments. 

Members of CTF2 crawl through a tunnel at the training grounds in Virginia. (Canada Task Force 2)

"The facility is incredible, they've got an old prison site that has resettable props where we can have the team simulate a response into a small town and have the ability to work through what that entire response would look like, from landing on the ground in the town to completion," she said. 

The training focused on a major earthquake — fictitiously set in Nepal — and how to rescue people from collapsed buildings. 

Rescuing people from rubble

The CTF2 contingent included 74 people, doing everything from handling K9s trained to sniff out those stuck in rubble, to technical searchers who peer into debris with cameras, to rescuers who actually dig in to pull out those trapped in collapsed buildings. 

"The training, for me, was on a scale that I haven't seen before," said rescuer Greg Law, whose full-time job is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department.

Members of CTF2 use equipment to listen for fictional survivors in a collapsed building. (Canada Task Force 2)

Working with the Virginia task force was an honour, he said. 

"These are the guys that I follow on Facebook, that I look up to," said Law.  

The rescuers were able to rappel into a collapsed basement through an elevator shaft, said Law, and practice how to get through concrete and metal that might block their way to 'trapped victims' — often played by real people. 

Planning for the future

Although Calgary might not have earthquakes, structural collapse is a threat in any city, said Henry, plus the team has to be ready to deploy to B.C. to help if a major earthquake struck. 

In the future, there could even be deployments overseas. 

A patient is transported from the scene during training exercises in Virginia. (Canada Task Force 2)

"We're always open to the international deployment, but right now we're focused on making sure that we have our skill sets in order in our own backyard and our own house," said Henry.

CTF2 has been used during the Calgary floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray wildfires and the wildfires around Slave Lake. 

With files from Sarah Lawrynuik

now