Not all rescue missions are the same.
For those that are especially dangerous, there’s a special team at East Pierce Fire and Rescue that’s ready to take the call — the Technical Rescue Team.
Comprised of 18 East Pierce Fire members, the team responds to calls that require special training, such as building collapses or high-angle rescues. And while these rescue missions might be few and far between, East Pierce Fire Lt. Robert Ruszala said it’s the team’s job to prepare for anything.
“These are low frequency calls that are high-risk,” said Ruszala, who has been with East Pierce Fire for nine years. “Time is of the essence.”
These are low frequency calls that are high-risk. Time is of the essence.
Rob Ruszala, lieutenant with East Pierce Fire and Rescue
In March, the team participated in a drill that simulated a parking garage collapse after an earthquake. A car was trapped underneath, and inside the car was a dummy that the team was tasked to rescue.
And while the team knew the drill was coming, it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“You set up for one way, and it went very differently,” Ruszala said about the drills.
“Technical rescue is a thinking person’s game, because you have to apply what you learn, your experiences … (to an emergency) you might encounter for the first time,” said Lt. Kevin Stabenfeldt, a member of East Pierce Fire for 11 years.
For this one in particular, there was a lot of moving of slabs of concrete. The process was slow-moving, due to safety precautions.
“It’s usually a pretty difficult rescue,” Stabenfeldt said. “We try to be really creative. We’d rather struggle during training than struggle during an actual incident.”
It’s usually a pretty difficult rescue. We try to be really creative. We’d rather struggle during training than struggle during an actual incident.
Kevin Stabenfeldt, lieutenant with East Pierce Fire and Rescue
“You sweat in training so you don’t bleed in war,” added Ruszala.
The drill lasted about eight hours, but when it was over, the team had accomplished its mission, safely removing the trapped dummy.
“We will get there and the problem will be mitigated, whatever it is, by the time we leave,” Stabenfeldt said.
First assembled in 2008, the Technical Rescue Team is one of four special operations teams at East Pierce Fire and Rescue. Others include the Wildland Team, Hazmat Team and Water Rescue Team. The Technical Rescue Team trains for rescue in five areas: rope rescue, structural collapse rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue and machine or heavy extrication rescue.
The team is currently expanding training for heavy machine, or “man versus machine,” rescue. These situations can vary from a vehicle trapped under a semitruck or someone who got a hand stuck in a piece of machinery.
“These aren’t things you have every day, but you need to have a plan,” said Stabenfeldt, adding that it’s especially necessary with the large industrial park in Sumner.
The Technical Rescue Team participates in about one drill a month. Some of those drills involve other members of the Pierce County Special Operations Rescue Team (PCSORT), which includes Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, West Pierce Fire and Rescue and Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One. These drills occur five times a year and span three days long.
Our job really is all-encompassing. You really do need these specialty teams. We’re problem solvers. We’re good at solving problems no matter what’s thrown at us.
“Our job really is all-encompassing. You really do need these specialty teams,” Stabenfeldt said. “We’re problem solvers. We’re good at solving problems no matter what’s thrown at us.”