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Vandenberg search, rescue team furthers skills

Robert McCoy, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, observes proper crane operations during Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist training, March 12, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The training covered the use of heavy equipment in the event of an earthquake structural collapse scenario. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

Robert McCoy, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, observes proper crane operations during Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist training, March 12, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The training covered the use of heavy equipment in the event of an earthquake structural collapse scenario. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

Members of Vandenberg’s Urban Search and Rescue team, along with local partners, take a break from Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist training, March 12, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The training provided a valuable opportunity for Vandenberg US&R members to work alongside counterparts from all over the California coast. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

Members of Vandenberg’s Urban Search and Rescue team, along with local partners, take a break from Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist training, March 12, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The training provided a valuable opportunity for Vandenberg US&R members to work alongside counterparts from all over the California coast. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As part of a continued effort to be ready in times of disaster, members of Vandenberg's Urban Search and Rescue team recently participated in Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist training, here, March 11 through 13.

Also known as HERS training, the occasion provided a valuable opportunity for Vandenberg US&R members to train alongside counterparts from all over the California coast.

"The training was a (Federal Emergency Management Agency) National Urban Search and Rescue Response System course for the Heavy Equipment and Rigging Specialist," said Essex Martinez, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron US&R fire captain. "It provided students with an understanding of operational characteristics, maintenance and minor repairs for heavy equipment such as cranes, back hoes, front-end loaders and dump trucks."

Due to Vandenberg's geographical location, the question isn't if a large earthquake will cause significant structural damage in the local area - but when.

"The training was in support of an earthquake structural collapse scenario," said Mark Farias, 30th CES fire chief. "Using heavy equipment, they learned how to remove debris from a collapse scenario involving trapped victims. We're in earthquake country and due for a big one. The purpose is to save lives and restore mission capability and only training, equipment and expertise can make that happen - and happen safely."

In addition to providing realistic hands-on scenarios, the training was led by a man with instrumental heavy equipment experience in the aftermath of disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

"We travel all over teaching these classes," said Jay Coon, lead instructor for FEMA HERS class. "Our goal is to make sure they are comfortable when they get to an incident that involves a building collapse. It's important for the HERS person, the rescue people, crane operators, iron workers and everyone else involved to work seamlessly together. We really want to thank the members of Vandenberg. They've done a great job and it's been a pleasure."

For participants, Coon's presence provided an irreplaceable realism to the training scenarios and illustrated the importance of sound preparation.

"Having Jay Coon as lead instructor was invaluable," said Martinez. "Having been on the front lines after the Oklahoma City bombing and ground zero after 9/11, he brought a certain credibility and legitimacy. The incidents Jay has been a part of are what we train for, and having first-hand knowledge allows the students to be receptive to the training that has been proven in the field."

It came as no surprise to the fire chief that his firefighters tackled this complex training with intense motivation and dedication.

"When things go wrong people call us, and every one of our programs and services is a result of a daily journey taken by our outstanding firefighters," said Farias. "Whether filled with sounds of a keyboard or the sounds of a siren, the day always ends with the same passion and unbridled commitment."