Urban rescue unit in the works for Port Alberni

The Alberni Valley Rescue Squad wants to form a new team that would perform light urban structural rescue. But the union representing Port Alberni firefighters says that's their turf.

A special unit that could rescue people from light structures after a natural disaster is in the works in the Alberni Valley.

Port Alberni city council voted to provide a letter of support to the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad for the initiative at their Monday meeting.

The letter will be part of the squad’s $100,000 gaming grant application to undertake the training.

The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District has already given its own letter of support to the AVRS for the project.

If created, the new urban search and rescue team would have the skills and tools to perform light structural rescue.

Specifically, those rescues would be from collapsed wood and masonry frame structures similar to “the majority of structures in Alberni’s tsunami zone”, rescue squad member Darren Saare said.

There is no such team on Vancouver Island that specializes in this type of rescue, he added.

Participation in the training would be open to municipal and fire personnel, as the squad doesn’t have the required 20 people needed to undertake the training.

City fire personnel, however, were lukewarm to the initiative.

Urban search and rescue is a specialized skill carried out largely by professional firefighters, wrote Ben Halychuk, local IAFF president.

Local firefighters support the rescue squad’s role in searching for hikers or missing persons.

But firefighters perform confined space rescue, material stabilization and compromised atmospheres.

“…we see the specialization of the work involved and equipment used as falling under the recognized job related duties of the Port Alberni Fire Department,” Halychuk wrote.

The AVRS and PAFD are mutually exclusive but can work in sync in certain instances, fire chief Tim Pley said.

Firefighters are urban based and are adept at high angle rescue.

The AVRS are experienced in a rural setting and want training in light structural rescue.

In the event of a disaster the fire department will have to triage calls and can’t answer them all.

And such a team may be called upon by an incident command structure.

“We can’t do it alone – they can’t do it alone,” Pley said.

“I’m satisfied that they are not a threat.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com