Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Response to Alberta flood emphasizes importance of structural collapse training

In June 2013, I responded to one of the largest natural disasters to ever strike the province of Alberta, Canada. The severe weather and disastrous flood that struck on June 20 claimed four lives and left an estimated $500 million or more in damages. More than 100,000 people in southern Alberta were evacuated, including everyone in downtown Calgary.

I was deployed for more than two weeks - with Canadian Task Force 2 and then as part of the Strathcona County Emergency Services Technical Rescue Team from Sherwood Park, Alberta.

This response reinforced for me the importance of emergency response training, especially the training in structural collapse and rescue techniques I received at Disaster City® through the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.

Initially, Canadian Task Force 2 was assigned to assist with search and evacuation. The first 40-hour push was very busy and very aggressive on evacuation. We were doing a lot of structural assessment triage and damage assessments, going from house to house in neighborhoods. I definitely used the hard skills I learned in Advanced Structural Collapse courses at TEEX. I knew what to look for in assessing buildings and structural damage. Before the deployment ended, we had facilitated 6,500 structural assessments.

After the 40-hour push, we were asked to protect critical infrastructure, including keeping water out of a large communications hub. Other people were assigned to protect the energy and electrical hubs for the city. No matter what your ‘title,’ you have to be flexible in a deployment – you often have to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’

We were very fortunate. Working with the Calgary Fire Department and using pumps, we were able to keep the infrastructure working except the electric power in the immediate impact area.

Down the river from Calgary, the town of High River, population 13,000, was very hard hit by the flooding. After Canadian Task Force 2 was demobilized, I deployed with the Strathcona County Technical Rescue Team to assist in High River. One of the severely damaged areas was where two rivers converged in the community.

Working with a structural engineer, we set up a mapping system and planned how to assess each structure. There were many challenges, including a mobile home park where most of the homes had been displaced. Just going through this neighborhood when every home had been moved was a challenge to figure out which home went where and its original address. In other areas of the community, street signs and homes had been moved or washed away, so we had to conduct size-up, categorize the homes by a marking system and reestablish the original location.  We mapped out and evaluated 80 structures, checking walls, looking for cracks or shifting, checking window and door openings, and looking for movement of electrical and gas hookups.

Although we train to respond to natural disasters, the devastation we encountered during this incident was difficult to process. Your training just kicks in. The real-world training I received at TEEX helped prepare me for this response. One of the biggest plusses is the realism of the props at Disaster City. Everything there has been engineered to look like it’s been damaged or stressed, so you shift into that mindset. The instructors quiz you about what you are seeing, and what to look for in damaged structures, so you can apply this concept to a real world disaster.  
The training evolutions possible at Disaster City and the efficiency of the instruction provide a real-world tempo – the instructors keep you going, going, going. The props are set up to facilitate time on task and training, without downtime for resetting a prop, whether it is concrete breaching or shoring. The logistical support means downtime is minimized; tools are switched out promptly. This efficiency and real-world tempo go together for an excellent training experience. And the structure of the training means teams from different nations could integrate together in multinational teams very well.

Also, the background and knowledge of the full-time and adjunct instructors are phenomenal. They are people who have had real world experience with large-scale incidents. Some of the participants in the Advanced Structural Collapse 4 class last April were members of Texas Task Force 1 and had to leave during the class to deploy to a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

When I returned for the Advanced Structural Collapse 5 class, they did a presentation to the group about the recent deployment and lessons learned. They give you takeaways from their experience that you can apply. It’s this type of real-world experience and hands-on training you can’t get anywhere else. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to this specialized training, and it’s having a ripple effect here in Alberta.

I first came to Disaster City in January 2010 and spent my best birthday ever -– breaking concrete. Even though I’ve been back several times since then, you can’t appreciate the scope and the scale and the structural details until you are inside Disaster City.  Every time I go back, it’s another ‘Wow’ moment. The whole experience has been phenomenal.

~ Lt. Russ Bubenko serves on the operations staff of the Strathcona County Emergency Services, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. He is also a member of Canadian Task Force 2, and is currently one of three Canadians to earn the US&R Rescue Specialist Certificate from TEEX.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Veterinary Emergency Team members reflect on deployment to West, TX

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is no stranger to helping out in times of emergency. Through Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and after, the CVM has provided assistance to both injured and evacuated animals in the Brazos Valley. But Hurricane Ike demonstrated to emergency response personnel that sometimes more immediate, on-site veterinary help was needed, and the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) was formed at the request of the Texas Animal Health Commission.

This video from MyVNN encapsulates the need for quick response from trained organizations like the Veterinary Emergency Team, who provided footage for this piece:

VET prepares veterinary professionals and students to participate in emergency response efforts at local, state, and federal levels. Working together, the deployable response team consists of trained faculty and staff: veterinarians, veterinary technicians, senior veterinary medicine students and auxiliary staff. They run practice exercises with Texas Task Force 1, and also attend all of the Task Force canine training exercises. See photos from the TX-TF1 annual mobilization exercise in April 2013 on the Vet Med Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/118BQqG

They are also deployed along with the Task Force when necessary. So, sometimes a student's Community Connection rotation becomes more real than practice. The West, Texas, deployment in April was a defining moment for two fourth year students: Joseph Wagner and Brittany Marvel.
Joseph Wagner expected to take part in a simulated disaster scenario when he signed up for the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Community Connections rotation. Instead, he was called out on a real deployment when a fertilizer plant exploded in West,Texas.

“On the night of Wednesday, April 17th, I received a text message from a friend, indicating the ongoing apparent disaster in West, Texas. Instead of practicing first response techniques in a simulation, we were deployed to the real thing. For 2.5 days I, along with 3 other students, assisted the Veterinary Emergency Team in the response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. This was the first time I’ve been a part of such a massive disaster. Our primary role was to treat the search and rescue dogs as well as any pets collected from the disaster zone. This culminated in us receiving and processing approximately 80 pets which were then transported to the local animal shelter to be reunited with their owners.
This experience changed the way in which I see myself as a soon-to-be veterinarian. Although the devastation shocked me, I was left with a powerful and resonating notion of pride and satisfaction with what we did. The victims of this explosion lost everything. Some lost mothers and fathers; others lost sons and daughters. Many lost friends. More lost their homes. But at the end of the day, most still had their pets. And they had their pets because of what VET did.
The tireless work in documenting and treating each animal we came across facilitated their return to their owners. When families returned to what once were their homes, they knew their lives had changed forever. But we could provide them with the dog or cat they thought was surely lost. Amidst the darkness and chaos comes a small sliver of hope. And this hope may be all they have. From that point they can reassess, rebuild, and recover.
This rotation changed the way in which I perceive my duties within the veterinary profession. It has allowed me to take a step back from the algorithms of medicine and precision of surgery to ask myself, 'When the time comes, can I use my skills to help my neighbors? Will I?' 
Seeing firsthand the profound effect their work in West had on those victims, I cannot sit idly by when disaster strikes again. I would not trade my experiences on this rotation for anything. It has strengthened my commitment to my fellowman in ways I could not conceive.”
~Joseph Wagner
For Brittany Marvel, another veterinary student who assisted the Veterinary Emergency Team during the West deployment, advance planning and preparation for an emergency makes a world of difference.

“It’s difficult to think about your life being uprooted and forever changed in a split second. This truly 'sunk in' as I looked upon the destruction caused by the explosion in West. Having now seen devastating loss first hand, I understand why the Community Connections rotation and Veterinary Emergency Team are so vital. And why it’s important to have thought about and planned in case of an emergency. Ignorance will not always be bliss.
The Veterinary Emergency Team was well equipped and able to respond quickly in just a matter of hours. Teams so well equipped and trained do not suddenly appear, although to the public eye, it may seem that way. But it was only after I was led through the process of preparing a plan for a shelter, for a temporary veterinary clinic, for my own personal evacuation, and now especially having seen these plans be put into action in West, that I comprehend the depth of planning required. Haphazard planning results in flashlights without batteries; thoughtful planning results in a team well equipped and trained to handle whatever may come. Our team moved seamlessly through the triage process of each animal and was able to deliver each animal to safety. I call that success!
I also learned in West that it takes a community to run a first response mission. The American Red Cross deserved a standing ovation for providing warm meals to our team and the Task Force… it allowed the Veterinary Emergency Team and Task Force to aid in full capacity. Resources such as this are vital to keep the team up and running, but are often overlooked as not 'part of the mission.' Having other first responding entities like the American Red Cross and local schools (who donated their locker rooms for us to shower in), means that our team and the Task force were able to focus on our overarching missions. I learned that partnering with community leaders such as these to ensure that the team’s needs are met results in better service. I’m also thankful for those who give to entities such as this, and I hope they know the impact of their gift.
However, the bottom line for me was this: The Veterinary Emergency Team is about loving people. (The animals are definitely loved too!) But the team in West gave up their lives at home and all their comforts to help others they did not even know. Looking at the destruction and placing yourself in the shoes of those who lost so much, certainly makes you realize what recovery of a beloved pet means. The Veterinary Emergency Team works countless hours to recover animals to bring people hope; they are certainly lovers of people, and exemplify sacrifice of self for the betterment of others. While in veterinary school … we cannot forget that veterinary care is more than just treating the animal; it’s about love for people and community who care for those animals. This team’s sacrifice, without a doubt, summed up why I am so proud to become an Aggie Veterinarian.”
~Brittany Marvel

Joseph Wagner and Brittany Marvel are two of the four Aggie Veterinarian fourth year students who participated in the response team that deployed to West, Texas following the fertilizer plant explosion. The addition of the VET to the Task Force arsenal has only strengthened the response capabilities available to the state and the nation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Online Firefighter Academy a Success

FireFighterAcademy.com may be the new kid on the block when it comes to eLearning, but the comprehensive, blended learning course has nearly 200 years of firefighter training and education experience behind it. The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), renowned for its hands-on firefighter training that began in 1930, has joined with Pennwell Corporation’s Fire Engineering Books & Videos to offer prospective firefighters a new option for obtaining the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001 Firefighter I and II certification. 

In a fast-paced world where schedules are demanding, FireFighterAcademy.com is a fast-track solution to a fulfilling career in fire and emergency services. The online firefighter course unites educational technology with proven training methods that are geared for tomorrow’s fire and emergency service leaders. But with a combined 545 hours of training, the course doesn’t skimp on the essential knowledge and skills firefighters need to be effective and stay safe.     

“Our number one goal is and always has been providing high-quality education and realistic hands-on training,” says Robert Moore, Director of TEEX’s Emergency Services Training Institute and the Brayton Fire TrainingField. “With FireFighterAcademy.com, we’re proud to say we’re continuing this tradition through the dynamic, blended learning environment designed and developed here at TEEX in partnership with PennWell Publishing.”

FireFighterAcademy.com provides cutting edge, intuitive training modules for fire and emergency response personnel who are serious about safety, survival, and effective firefighting techniques. It is designed to meet and surpass all knowledge and skill requirements for the NFPA 1001 Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications and NFPA 472 relating to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents.

Students have up to 90 days to complete the 335-hour online portion of the training, which is followed by an intensive, 21-day, 210-hour hands-on skills training session at the renowned Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, Texas.
The online course includes nearly 400 videos demonstrating firefighting skills along with commentaries from nationally known training instructors. Students train in a virtual classroom, which prepares them for the intensive, hands-on skills training and NFPA 1001 certification testing at the Brayton Fire Training Field.

The physical skills training portion includes daily physical fitness activities and live-fire training under top-notch instructors. The recruit firefighters extinguish fires engulfing everything from dumpsters and vehicles to warehouses and industrial terminals. Each student receives extensive training on the safe operation of emergency vehicles in a variety of driving situations. They also get hands-on training on fire apparatus, such as working with a fire hose, operating pump panels, drafting water and calculating water flow to a fire. All the training emphasizes safety and personal preparedness, and each student is issued a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) unit to use while in training.
The comprehensive program runs seven days a week and also includes training in rescue techniques, along with the ropes, knots and hitches used during rappelling, rigging hauling systems, and lowering/raising of victims. The recruit firefighters also receive training in HAZMAT operations and response measures.  

Students who pass both the skills testing and the written exam for each level receive up to six Pro Board certifications and are considered a certified firefighter. The blended learning course has graduated 22 certified firefighters since it was launched in 2012, and everyone passed the Pro Board NFPA 1001 Firefighter I and II certification exam. The program currently has 44 prospective firefighters enrolled.
The online Recruit Fire Training Academy is also recognized by Blinn College, which offers up to 25 college credit hours to those who complete the program. This agreement means that veterans or other students who enroll in the program through Blinn College are eligible for financial aid as well as college credit.
As 2012 graduate David Bohls commented: “It is not possible to compare the education that TEEX offers its online students because it does not compare to anyone else! TEEX is providing a comprehensive and real-world education to all that want to become firefighters."

To hear from more students, watch this video from the second class of the online class: http://bit.ly/VHbVNw, or visit us online at FireFighterAcademy.com

Jason Loyd

A certified firefighter with a Bachelor's degree in Business Management concentrating on Fire Service Administration, Jason Loyd is the Online Training Manager for TEEX Emergency Services Training Institute. The second edition of Jason's book, Fundamentals of Fire and Emergency Services, will be released in August 2013. Contact Jason at Jason.Loyd@teex.tamu.edu with any questions about the online academy.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

TEEX programs retrain veterans for civilian jobs

As one of the largest extension and vocational training organizations in the nation, TEEX is committed to helping the men and women who served our country to retrain for a new career in the civilian workforce. We are part of the great military tradition at Texas A&M University, and we have been training military veterans since World War II.

The U.S Department of Labor reports the unemployment rate of veterans from the post-9/11 era is hovering at 11.7 percent. We agree with the Department of Labor that the number is too high, and we support federal efforts to help out-of-work or underemployed veterans get the training they need to get back in the job market. The need for quality training and education programs will grow as an estimated 1.5 million service members transition out of the military over the next five years.

Offering a wide variety of vocational and industrial training programs, TEEX is a Non-College-Degree School affiliated with The Texas A&M University System, a military veteran-friendly institution of higher education.

We offer a variety of certificate programs approved by the Veterans Administration (VA) to assist veterans in furthering their education and training, while leveraging their veterans benefits. Some programs are also VA education benefit approved for wounded warriors.  All of our VA education benefit approved programs are offered in Bryan-College Station and other locations across Texas. No college degree is required and training varies from one week to nine months. We have fast-track options that can get you on the job faster and many of our programs are eligible for college credit at an accredited two-year or four-year college. 
Many of the approved programs train veterans for careers in public service, such as firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians. Health and safety officials and unexploded ordnance technicians are also popular programs for military veterans. There is a growing need for people in these fields, and often veterans have military experience and transferable skills they can leverage into careers in their chosen fields

Perhaps you have always dreamed of becoming a firefighter.  Or your military training and experience would provide the basis for a career as a police officer, an Emergency Medical Technician or an Unexploded Ordnance Technician. One of the advantages of our VA education benefit approved programs is that veterans can obtain a certification and begin work quicker than they would through a two- or four-year college program – but still have the option of applying for college credits should they decide later to pursue a college degree.
TEEX programs can train you for fulfilling careers as a:

At TEEX you will receive hands-on, practical training from knowledgeable instructors with real-world experience in the field. One in six of our employees are veterans, so we understand the challenges you face, and we’re there to help. We have a dedicated Veterans Liaison to walk you through the application process and the VA paperwork required to claim your education benefits.

TEEX is proud to join other members of The Texas A&M University System to ensure that our military veterans transition from active duty to fulfilling and meaningful careers in the civilian workforce.
For more information on TEEX Veterans programs visit www.teex.org/VA.

For more information on veterans programs in The Texas A&M University System, visit the Veterans Support Office: https://www.tamus.edu/veterans/. You can also visit the Veterans Administration to learn more about accessing your benefits: https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/.

Steven Robinson is the Veterans Liaison for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.  In 2012, he received the Presidential Award from the Western Association of Veteran Education Specialists (WAVES). He also serves as a Peer Facilitator for the Brazos Valley Veterans Peer Network Support  and is a member of the WAVES Executive Board.