PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - The Philadelphia Fire Department has three specialized companies in building collapse and search and rescue.
“It looks like they were able to extricate somebody here,” said Battalion Chief John O’Neill. He’s all too familiar with what it takes to respond to tragedies like the one in Miami where a pedestrian bridge collapsed today. He’s with the Philadelphia Fire Department special operations company that handles search and rescue. There are three of them in the city. Heavy Rescue 1, Squad 47 and Squad 72.
“I think that they were searching or making the first initial search for vehicles underneath of the structure,” he said as we watched live footage of the response to the scene.
“They’re going to look to see if there’s anybody they can physically grab and move out of the danger zone and move into a safe zone.” Looking at the collapse O’Neill know exactly what equipment is being used to remove the debris to get to people and cars underneath.
“So we need heavy cranes and heavy loaders to help lift and then possibly remove the debris to another location. We’d also be working in conjunction with listening devices that we would put over the area to see if anyone is tapping or any movement from somebody and we also have visual capabilities like search cameras that can go down.”
He knows because of the many tragedies national and local that Philadelphia’s Special Operations teams have responded to like 9/11, Katrina and Hurricane Harvey to name a few. What’s happening in Florida right now is no different than the response to the deadly Salvation Army building collapse at 22nd and Market five years ago.
“Where it has to be removed a little bit at a time because you’re in a weak structure and I’m sure there’s weak spots here as well. They have to think about the structures that are still elevated and have to be secured.” And O’Neill says preventing a secondary collapse is important in any situation like this.
"As a Chief Officer my thoughts go to being the safety of the members that are working underneath there and making sure that they go home at the end of the night."