Yukon firefighters undergo earthquake response training

Yukon firefighters were busy Tuesday learning how to safely rescue people from collapsed buildings.

Yukon firefighters were busy Tuesday learning how to safely rescue people from collapsed buildings.

Twenty-four Yukon firefighters, emergency services and fire marshal personnel are taking part in a four-day class given by the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team from CFB Esquimalt in British Columbia.

The training is taking place at the Fire Hall on top of Two Mile Hill where trainers have installed several trailers to simulate rescue operations.

“It allows them, once trained, if they have an event where there’s somebody trapped inside a collapsed building, it gives them the skills required to safely enter and get them out safely,” said Glenn Cooper, CFB Esquimalt USAR team commander.

The course is split into three modules: stabilize, breach and break, and lift and move.

“First they stabilize the structure to make it safer for the rescuer, safer for the patient trapped inside,” Cooper said.

The breach and break part teaches them how to cut and penetrate concrete, wood or steel structures using cutting torches.

For the last part of the training, the firefighters will learn how to safely move 1,360-kilogram slabs of concrete with basic hand tools such as pry bars and their bare hands.

“They don’t get any cranes,” Cooper said.

By training local emergency first responders, the hope is to speed up rescues, Cooper said.

After earthquakes and building collapses, people rescued during the first hour have a 95 per cent chance of surviving.

“Having people trained locally so they don’t have to wait (for outside help) is very critical to the citizens of the area,” Cooper said.

There are several federal search and rescue teams across the country that can help, but the closest one to the Yukon is in Vancouver.

One of the goals of the training is to keep rescuers themselves safe, Cooper said.

“People will go way beyond their training and capability,” he said, meaning less-trained rescuers can end up injured and trapped too.

“(The risk is that) the rescuer puts his life at risk unnecessarily,” he said. “We can teach them to do it safely.”

Rescuers from CFB Esquimalt have experience in international aid relief, including a mission in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there.

Cooper is also teaching another class about damage assessment.

That allows firefighters to determine whether a building is safe for re-entry.

Cooper acknowledges training for earthquakes can be a “hard sell” financially.

“Major earthquakes only happen every few hundred years,” he said. “But when it happens you’ve got to be ready.”

Only the southwest and northeast corners of the territory are rated as having a high risk for earthquakes by Natural Resources Canada.

But the training will be useful for Yukon firefighters regardless, because it also applies to buildings on fire.

“As a fire goes through a house, it starts to degrade the engineering of the building,” said James Paterson, the Yukon’s deputy fire marshal, who is also taking the class.

“If we need to put a fire marshal on an investigation, this type of training is excellent to secure the building to enter safely.”

The training will also allow local teams to work with Canadian Forces personnel in case of a major disaster.

“(Canadian Forces) may not be able to deploy their full team,” Paterson said. “They will be able to direct City firefighters, (the) fire marshal’s office and our volunteers on how to successfully do the operations and we will augment their team.”

The training is also showing them that those operations don’t always require specific equipment.

“We’re learning right here that a lot of the tools are well within our reach,” Paterson said, noting all the tools required are standards in most fire halls.

The training is taking place as part of Operation Nanook, the annual military exercise in the North.

Troops from Valcartier, Que. are supposed to arrive in Whitehorse Thursday, with earthquake simulation exercises taking place in Haines Junction next week.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at


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