Truckee fire department readies for rescues
When a propane explosion leveled a downtown Truckee building in 1993, killing one and injuring eight, it became clear that small towns aren’t immune from catastrophic building collapses.
“It was always the mindset that only happened in big cities, but when Josephine’s collapsed, it really brought this to the forefront,” said Chief Bill Rust of the Truckee Fire Protection District, standing in front of a rescue vehicle Monday morning.
The lessons learned that day have culminated in 2008, as Truckee Fire received a new, higher-level of rescue certification, making the district one of only a handful in the state.
The new level of ability reflects three years of effort, training, and accumulation of specialized equipment, said Captain Craig Harvey.
“The next closest department is in Sacramento” that has Type 2 training, Harvey said. “As of last fall there were only six departments in California.”
Truckee Fire now has the equipment and training necessary to respond to collapsed buildings, can perform high-angle rope rescues on the rocks of Donner Summit, and pull people from mangled cars on the interstate, among many other scenarios, Harvey said.
“It [the rescue truck with specialized equipment] goes out every time we respond to a vehicle accident,” Harvey said. “Probably goes out 30 times a month on average.”
And while car accidents, swift water rescues, and avalanche searches are more common to the area, events like the explosion at Josephine’s ” where Dragonfly now stands ” also happen regularly, said Gene Welch, public safety and information officer.
“Including Donner Summit, there have been more than 20 building collapses over my 30-year career,” Welch said.
A collapse often starts with a snow load that damages gas or propane piping, which then leaks into the building and finds an ignition point.
Along with the equipment, which ranges from jackhammers to the Jaws of Life, all personnel are trained in all types of rescue, Harvey said, who is also an instructor in heavy rescue.
But the tools and talents that come with the Type 2 rescue level aren’t limited to just Truckee, Harvey said, and are put to use in neighboring areas like North Lake Tahoe.
The district is also listed in the Office of Emergency Services to be called on for mutual aid outside of the Truckee-Tahoe area, he said.