Firefighters undergo urban search and rescue training

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Hoboken firefighter Patrick Cappiello has been in a few situations where people had to be rescued from underneath a collapsed structure.

“A few years ago, I was there in Hoboken for the NJ Transit derailment. I saw the steel beams and concrete ceiling come down on top of the train,” Cappiello said.

One hundred ten people were injured and one woman inside the terminal died. Cappiello remembers helping some of those victims out of the area.

“We actually went onto that train and we got those people off there. The conductor had to be taken out through the window on like a basket because he was completely incapacitated,” Cappiello said.

The National Transportation Safety Board later determined the train most likely failed to stop because the engineer had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.

At the time, Cappiello was in a support role helping his fellow firefighters on the front line. He says a lot of questions were running through his mind.

“Now is it unsafe to even be in here because of the collapse? How much damage was done? Is there electricity? These were all the things going into it, and then to get people off the train. Training like this really puts you in a better capacity to handle those situations once you go through this,” Cappiello said.

Newark Fire Division hosted a handful of fire departments for Urban Search and Rescue training. The firefighters learn how to lift heavy objects like concrete or steel in order to get to victims that may be trapped underneath debris.

“If we had a collapse of a major building, our guys are crawling all over that pile and most of the heavy objects are going to have to be moved by crane,” said Special Rescue Instructor Brian Rathbone.

Rathbone explained during an emergency situation the crane operators are mostly there for safety and aren’t trained to go directly onto the pile of rubble for the rescue side of things. That’s why these firefighters are learning how to use hand signals to communicate with the crane operators.

“We will rig those pieces of concrete or whatever in the pile and then we’ll have a guy that can use hand signals — the same hand signals they’re taught with the crane operators — to move this stuff off of the pile to a safe area to get to somebody to rescue,” Rathbone said.

Rathbone says multiple cranes were working around the clock on 9/11.

“I was in there with New Jersey Task Force One within four hours,” Rathbone said.

Now, he’s using his years of experience to teach more firefighters how to respond. Cappiello says he already feels more confident.