First responders share shipwreck experience
May 29, 2014
VICENZA, Italy - Four members of the Scuba Search and Rescue team from the Vicenza Vigili del Fuoco met with the firefighters of the garrison's Directorate of Emergency Services for a professional exchange at Caserma Ederle May 12.
The focus of the encounter was an overview of the rescue and recovery operations after the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster of 2012, in which divers of the Vicenza VVF were among the first responders to arrive on the scene. They responded to the disaster as part of the national civil protection response system, which included rescuers from the Italian Coast Guard, Guardia di Finanza, Navy, Air Force and Carabinieri.
The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, carrying 4,252 passengers and crew from all over the world, keeled over and partially sank after striking rocks off the Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, Jan. 13, 2012. Despite the massive rescue operation launched in response, 32 people lost their lives. The ship is due to be refloated this summer and towed away to be cut up for scrap.
"I was honored to meet and host these brave firefighters to our post yesterday," said Chuck Walls, Vicenza deputy garrison commander.
"Their presentation was tremendous and gave all of us a better perspective on the enormous challenges facing these first responders to such an international tragedy. We gained much by their visit. It was not only educational, but reinforced the need to maintain a close working relationship with such a group of dedicated, professional and inspirational firefighters," Walls said.
The three-hour presentation, which featured exclusive video footage of the rescue operation, was an account of what happened after the ship capsized due large-scale internal flooding from a 53-meter long breach of its hull that ruptured five watertight compartments. It also provided an opportunity to analyze and discuss the complex coordination structure necessary for the management of a crisis on the scale of the Costa Concordia sinking.
The grounding of the cruise liner put in danger the lives of about 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members in an infrastructure that can be compared to a floating city. Called upon to face such an unprecedented emergency with international implications, the responders had to put their emotions on hold and perform at their very best with the world's eyes upon them.
"Being responsible for one's own actions, being aware that your actions may save a life or property, is the best motivation we can have to advance in our profession," said Modesto Dilda, the Vicenza team lead diver. His teammates on the mission were Luca Scaldaferro, Simone Sega and Francesco Boaria.
"We know well that the Costa Concordia disaster stirred exceptional worldwide attention with its tragedy, the evacuation of hundreds passengers and crew members, their rescue, the missing ones and the dead," Dilda said. "Our main interest here today is to share with our young colleagues from Vicenza and from Ederle that normal people, if well trained, well prepared and properly coordinated can succeed in exceptional endeavors. If we did it, you can do it too."
"I was absolutely amazed by the magnitude of this rescue and recovery operation," said Maj. Brian Mumfrey, Director of Emergency Services. "The fact that only meters held this ship from being completely submerged, which may have drastically increased the number of casualties, sheds a completely different light on this operation.
"To see how their efforts brought closure to so many families, but to also see what these men saw, was extremely humbling. These men truly made a difference in the recovery operations, and still do," he said.
In the eyes of the Italian team, the Caserma Ederle Fire Department is, in a way, a branch of their agency. "There is pride in knowing that we prepared and trained many of the young men who were able to meet the standards required by the American military and actually work for a foreign organization," Dilda said.
Samuele Orsolon is one of many Vicenza garrison firefighters who initially served in the local VVF before being hired by the U.S. Army. He said the meeting was useful because it highlighted the complexity of the response system responders encounter when facing a mass casualty incident. One of the frequently encountered challenges is the need for coordination among different authorities and agencies on the scene, he said.
The Costa Concordia lesson "could be useful for us as well in the event of an incident here on post and off post. For example, Lion Shake, even as an exercise, always reveals how difficult it is to synchronize efforts," said Orsolon. "For the same reason, sharing experience with the other firefighters is always helpful because one never stops learning, and each single intervention is different than every other one."