FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The broken floor of the bedroom sagged into the living room beneath, and the absence of an exterior wall offered a view within, where training mannequins were strewn about.

As part of a multi-day joint emergency services training Oct. 23, the Columbus-based Georgia Search and Rescue team assessed a partly collapsed former residential building at Ragin Court at Fort Benning, which has been scheduled for demolition for years.

Ricky Shores, fire marshal with the Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said Fort Benning provided the Georgia Search and Rescue Team an opportunity to hone skills not often employed as part of normal emergency operations.

"We in this area are very fortunate to have a team like this, to be ready to go, to effect these special hazard rescues," he said. "So these firefighters all volunteered, gave up time from their work and their home and their family. They put in hundreds of hours of rope rescue training, structural collapse, trench, heavy machinery rescue. ... These are all special training disciplines that you normally don't see out there for the average first responder."

Three buildings at Ragin Court, a former residential area on Main Post just off of Dixie Road, have been slated for demolition for some time. But rather than merely demolish the buildings, the Directorate of Public Works and the Directorate of Emergency Services at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning sought to derive valuable training from them.

After DPW turned the buildings over to DES, garrison emergency personnel performed emergency breaches in the building. In preparation for the rescue training Oct. 23 through 25, the buildings were partially collapsed and the dummies set inside.

Georgia Search and Rescue brought a large trailer full of power tools they might need in case of a structural collapse rescue, including specialized saws for cutting through concrete and brick, fans to ventilate the structure and more. To shore up the sagging structure, the emergency responders practically worked as carpenters to create braces to safely enter the building.

If the state of Georgia calls on its search and rescue teams during a hurricane, Shores gave as an example, the team training at Ragin Court will be more prepared.

"We can use the skills that we learn through this rescue training to make sure we can effect a rescue if we have a natural disaster," he said, "whatever takes place where our citizens are in harm's way and it takes special skills to get them to safety."

Assistant Chief Ryan Earwood with the Fort Benning Fire Department said training opportunities such as this are rare.

"A structural collapse exercise is not something that you can routinely do in a live structure," said Earwood. "Since these structures are scheduled for demolition, we're able to do what we need to with them and make them unsafe to work this exercise. So something like this may only occur once every five or six years in a live scenario setting."

"A lot of time our training takes place in an atmosphere where everything is very controlled," said Shores. "We don't have that here. We have a building that's been structurally compromised. We did that on purpose. So obviously if you're going to be able to operate with proficiency in a real emergency, in a dangerous emergency at that, you've got to practice sometimes in a dangerous situation."

Shores added that the Georgia Search and Rescue team has taken precautions to ensure they stay safe while training.

He further added that training with Fort Benning enables better coordination when a real larger scale emergency takes place.

"We work with Fort Benning a lot," he said. "We really appreciate their participation. Really skilled first responders. And it really helps if we do have a natural disaster that we all know each other by face. You can all have the same skill sets from one department to the next, but when you have an opportunity like we do, when we're fortunate to be able to work together on a regular basis like this, it really makes things flow a lot easier when a real disaster takes place."

The Fort Benning Fire Department is scheduled to perform controlled burns of each of the three Ragin Court buildings the first three Saturdays in November, beginning Nov. 2, if weather conditions are favorable.

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