First responders participate in life-saving, building collapse response in Virginia Beach

VBFD structure collapse course.JPG
Posted at 2:54 PM, Oct 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-17 22:23:47-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - After the condo collapse in Surfisde, Florida there's a new push for search and rescue training. Much of that life-saving training is happening in our backyard.

"It's taken me a while to get here, but 17 years later I finally get to go through this school," said Joshua Xenakis, Fire Captain on Rescue One, VBFD.

On Sunday afternoon, first responders met for day number two of their annual structural collapse rescue school.

"It takes a while to get the prerequisites just to get to this level," said Virginia Beach Fire Captain Jonathan A. Rigolo, Virginia Task Force 2 Leader and director of Industrial Rope Access & Confined Space Training. "What we're hoping to do here is to get a good foundation of skills that they can use when they respond to an emergency, particularly a collapse."

Particularly like the collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Flordia. Operated under the Virginia Beach Fire Department, Virginia Task Force Two, the unit hosting the 8-day course, responded to Surfside after training in Virginia Beach.

"They really got to take the skills and stuff that they learned here and utilize them down there and that's what this training is exactly geared for," said Xenakis.

Captain Rigolo said, "This year we have the largest class we've ever had so I think there's a renewed interest in structure of collapse response because of the recent collapse in Florida."

Everyday for the next week, 162 first responders from across the country will navigate through crumbled concrete, steel beams, and smoke as though they're rescuing someone trapped.

"Our special ops team is in need of this type of training," said Rachel Calderon-Murphy, a Firefighter and EMT with Frederick Co. Fire Rescue in Maryland.

This is Calderon-Murphy's first time through the collapse specialist course.

She said, "This is the place for me to make mistakes and learn new things here in training so that when we do run these types of calls, we're doing it well and we have the knowledge to back it up."

A nationally recognized program walking responders through the motions now so they're ready if and when the time comes.

Training also includes heavy lifting and moving, airbag operations, internal and external shoring operations, cutting and burning, concrete breaching and breaking, and practical crane operations.