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Trench Rescue Training Shores Up Teamwork

First responders from across Northwest Arkansas trained together in a Springdale trench Monday.
Springdale, AR - First responders from across Northwest Arkansas trained together in a Springdale trench Monday.

The exercise included members of the Northwest Arkansas Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. The team is a collaboration between Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and rural Washington County agencies.

"Large scale disasters and emergencies take a cooperative effort," says Mike Dixon, Benton County's Deputy Director of Emergency Management. "Getting everybody together in an exercise scenario gives us a chance to get to know each other."

USAR Team Coordinator John Luther says the technical specialists make up one of two Arkansas teams prepared to respond to disasters anywhere in the country. The other team is hosted by Pulaski County in central Arkansas.

"The state of Arkansas tested its capabilities through an assessment, and one of the capabilities that showed low for the entire state was urban search and rescue," Luther says. "With things like the World Trade Center, the Federal Murrow Building, Hurricane Katrina, Joplin, more tornadoes... we said that's something that as a state we've got to improve."

Luther says the specialized rescue is expensive, and labor intensive.

"By taking a small number of people from various agencies within a region, it gives us the ability to not tax any one agency or jurisdiction, but we comprise a large team that way," he says. "We're still building it out, practicing, learning. We do structural collapse, confined space rescues, high and low angle, swift water components."

Dixon says the trench collapses can, and have played out in Northwest Arkansas.

"With all of the construction that we have in this area, this does happen, unfortunately," he says. "It's a good thing for these guys to be ready for it."

Luther says these situations may be rare, but they're also high risk.

"The ones that we don't do frequently often times, always, involve a living human," he says. "We want to make certain that our skills are kept up to speed."

Each year the task force plans to train for two haz-mat emergencies, as well as two technical rescues.
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