Search methods that can rescue


Sharynn Lipman walked behind a door leading to the entrance of a maze of debris inside the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank one recent afternoon, not knowing what to expect — just that she had to go in. Guided only by a flashlight and the sound of faint moaning, Lipman and her teammates slipped their way through the opening of a chained door up the steps to the second floor, where the victim lay injured from falling through the ceiling of an apartment on the second floor.

But it was only a drill this time around. 

“I really had no idea what to expect,” said Lipman, a West Babylon resident who volunteered to train for the county’s Community Emergency Response Team in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. “I was nervous [of the training exercise] because I was going into an unknown situation — even though I knew it was safe — and just didn’t know what would happen.”

Lipman, who works for Bank of America, saw the effect the volunteer organization had on Sandy’s displaced while visiting her husband, David, a CERT volunteer for the last six years, at the county’s pet-friendly emergency shelter in Riverhead. Lipman couldn’t just sit idly by watching her husband work, so she asked for something to do to feel like she was making a difference. 

“It felt really good,” she recalled informally helping the shelter’s residents. It was that same sense of satisfaction that Lipman got from helping out at the shelter, which prompted her to take the next step and join the CERT program. Over the past few weeks, Lipman’s learned to expect the unexpected, as in the search and rescue training exercise.

“I was kind of nervous, not crazy nervous, but I was a little nervous not knowing what to expect,” she added.

That feeling is something many in the class grappled with first-hand as they worked in a set of three groups to rescue the unconscious victim — as it turned out, a 150-pound mannequin. The class’ incident commander, the top dog in charge of leading the group, separated the class into groups of five to six people, first sending in the location team to use flashlights to search for the victim, which was later revealed to be a man with a broken leg, returning only after the mission was complete to relay his exact location in the maze. 

Once the victim’s location was passed on, the debris removal team was sent into the maze to take care of any obstacles that could impede the rescue efforts. Finally, the rescue team was sent in, tasked with using whatever implements they could find around them to make a splint for his leg and also something to provide sturdy transport so he could be carried down a ramp to the outside of the training maze.

“I think that it went really smoothly,” she recalled. “I feel like it was a learning experience; it was a little frightening. But in the end, it was a productive drill and it was definitely a good exercise for everyone to understand and really imagine what [a real search and rescue exercise] would be like.”

The fact that the teams held back and analyzed the situation first, and then followed a strict game plan, also went a long way.

“I found with the victim retrieval, as the incident commander, it was a little overwhelming because I had never played in that role before,” said the incident commander, who did not want to be identified. “But I found that the teams all worked really well together and, even though we were all winging it for the first time — because it was new to all of us — that they communicated with each other really well.”

If that was the lesson, then Lipman and her classmates learned it well.

“Communication is key,” said Lipman, noting that some classmates speculated that when her team came out of the maze to pass the mannequin’s location along to the debris removal team, they should have relayed the information to the medical team, who were scheduled to go in last. “I think that is a critical skill, that when you go into a situation you have to keep aware.”