Around 100 of Canada’s most elite search and rescue personnel descended on Penticton, B.C., this week for a three-day training exercise.
Known as Canada Task Force 1, the team is made of firefighters, police, paramedics, engineers and other professionals with a wide range of skills.
“We’re a heavy urban search and rescue team, and what that means is we’re a group of different kinds and types of resources assembled to support communities when there are natural disasters or major emergencies that can’t be handled by traditional emergency response systems,” said Canada Task Force 1 director Justin Mulcahy.
“We’re made up of about 180 or so people. We’ve deployed a full team deployment which is about 60 to 80 people here on exercise, really demonstrating that we’re capable of doing all the things that we do with natural disasters and real emergencies.”
Canada Task Force 1 deployed its members from Vancouver alongside Canada Task Force 4 out of Manitoba, the Canadian Armed Forces, District of North Vancouver Fire Rescue and Penticton Fire Rescue.
The team takes part in exercises like this every two to three years, but this was the first time training took place in Penticton.
“It’s a huge value for us to do a full team deployment and then recognize where we can improve and then put plans in place for the next two years to now improve,” said Canada Task Force 1 captain of operations Eric Grootendorst.
“We wanted to do an exercise where we had to deploy the team by road, we also wanted an area that had an airport, and we could fly helicopters around. Selfishly we wanted somewhere that’s one of the most beautiful places in the province, but also offers different topography.”
It was all hands on deck on Wednesday for an extreme weather event simulation.
Different scenarios were set up around the community including technical rope rescues, landslides, parkade collapses and building collapses.
“If there are things to learn then we learn them in a safe environment, because natural disasters are really dangerous, unpredictable circumstances, and we want to be best trained,” said Mulcahy.
“An exercise like this really gives us the opportunity to put everything together and really showcase our capabilities and prove that our systems work and make the fine adjustments that are needed to really be most effective when people need us the most.”
Crews took over the Penticton Convention Centre as well as the parkade at the Penticton Lakeside Resort and the BMX track for multiple scenarios.
“We simulated a three-story parkade collapse at the lakeside resort, with multiple people trapped as well. And we had a landslide at the BMX track where we simulated about 12 vehicles that have been affected by a landslide with nine people trapped inside,” said Grootendorst.
“One of our structural collapse props — we had about four patients within the structure that the members had to first locate and then go in and extricate.”
On Thursday, Grootendorst said there are plans for crews to take part in a water rescue scenario before heading home.