‘The rubble pile’ helps train first responders in urban search and rescue

CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis. — At Volk Field, the “pancake house” does not serve breakfast — instead, it is part of a Wisconsin Emergency Management training facility affectionately called “the rubble pile” that helps prepare first responders for urban search and rescue.

This could be anything from rescuing someone from a sewer line or, applicable to the severe weather that tore through the state this week, collapsed buildings.

The “pancake house” simulates a series of collapsed floors in a building that responders have to first stabilize, then drill holes through, to save rescue dummies.

Pancake House

The “pancake house” at the REACT Center emergency management training facility. It helps simulate a collapsed building for first responders.

Matt Davies is the director of the Regional Emergency All-Climate Training Center — the “rubble pile’s” formal name. He said urban search and rescue could mean anything.

“You might have to tunnel through a car, you might have to tunnel through a washer and dryer that you find in the house, a furnace — things like that,” Davies said.

WEM hosts training for first responders in Wisconsin and around the country at the REACT Center, and the preparation takes place in any weather.

“Not many people really like being out here when it’s 14 below zero, but earthquakes don’t care what the temperature is,” Davies said.

The training better prepares local first responders to react to emergencies in their jurisdictions, but WEM also has a special team that it can deploy for specific urban search and rescue needs.

“At the state level, what we do is we provide resources and we provide assistance to counties and local and tribal governments when the disaster exceeds their capacity to respond,” said Acting WEM Administrator Greg Engle.

“In a disaster, we can provide things like food and water, we can provide sandbags, heavy equipment — like aircraft and boats for search and rescue, but it can also be personnel like the National Guard,” he added.