By LACoFD Fire Captain David Norman
After several Los Angeles County firefighters nearly drowned while conducting rescues during major floods in 1982 and 1983, the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) embarked on a program to develop advanced technical rescue capabilities. The Department soon implemented a rope rescue program and later developed a swiftwater rescue program.
After the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, the Board of Supervisors reaffirmed the Department’s role as the primary search and rescue agency during disasters. Shortly after, Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman ordered the establishment of an urban search and rescue (USAR) committee to recommend development of a new, comprehensive system to manage such incidents.
The USAR committee consisted of team members who were certified California state fire marshal instructors for rescue systems-1 and trench rescue, and who were also certified swiftwater rescue technicians and trained in confined space.
The founding members of the 30-year-old program included: Fire Captain John Boyle, Fire Captain Larry Collins, Fire Captain Wayne Ibers, Fire Captain Mike Minor, Fire Captain Bill Monahan, Fire Captain Pat Rohaly, Fire Captain Don Roy, Fire Fighter Specialist Leo Ibarra, Fire Fighter Specialist Mike Inman, Fire Fighter Specialist Brian Le Fave, Fire Fighter Specialist Rich Meline, Fire Fighter Specialist Sid Miranda, Fire Fighter Specialist Todd Mitchum, Fire Fighter Specialist Angel Montoya, Fire Fighter Paramedic Joe Moline, Fire Fighter Rich Atwood and many more.
The original USAR committee members were charged with research and development, planning, developing training materials and standard operating procedures which are still used today, and coordinating USAR training. Ultimately, this committee trained over 700 firefighters, including me.
A celebration to recognize USAR’s 30-year anniversary will take place in Pacoima later this year, marking the successes and milestones of this ground-breaking program. I look forward to sharing more stories about USAR as we get closer to the anniversary date.