Rapid response: Bridge collapse highlights operational readiness

The tragic incident in Miami, Fla., illustrates the need for training and equipping every fire department for special operations

What happened: While the world watches, Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue and supporting agencies work around the clock to rescue victims from a catastrophic structural collapse. A pedestrian bridge, still in the construction phase, which was just assembled and placed into position on Saturday, collapsed without warning yesterday.

The bridge spans eight lanes of one of Miami’s busiest stretches of freeway and the collapse trapped approximately eight to 10 vehicles and pedestrians on foot with an unconfirmed number of victims. Ten viable victims have been rescued from the rubble with two listed in critical condition and the remaining eight listed with minor to moderate injuries. The number of fatalities is unknown at this time as crews work to clear voids and locate victims.

Crews are faced with analyzing the 950 tons of debris that spreads across 200 feet of freeway. They have to calculate both the stability and the load of all of the sections of concrete while they use search dogs, monitoring equipment and visual searches to locate victims. Once victims are located, they will work with heavy equipment and operators of cranes and track hoes to rig and remove debris.

They will also use breaching, breaking and burning techniques to gain access to void spaces and potential victim locations. Once they have worked their way into these voids, the voids can present as confined spaces. The presence of motor vehicles also means that potentially compromised fuel tanks are high probabilities, resulting in potentially flammable atmospheres. The operation is currently in rescue mode and will continue to remain so until command staff on scene determine that the probability for viable life no longer exists. At that point, the operation would convert to recovery operations and the majority of the dismantling would be done by machinery to reduce risk to rescuers.

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