BELDING — Crawling through dark, narrow trenches between crumbling pieces of broken concrete, in the worst of emergency situations, there will always have to be an individual who must volunteer and venture into that dangerous unknown in the event that a victim may be trapped in such a severe emergency situation.
If a situation were to call for such heroics, there are two individuals in Belding who are now officially trained and ready for action.
Belding Fire Chief Gregg Moore and Lt. Tim Lubitz of the Belding Fire Department are now members of the Region 6 Urban Search and Rescue Task Force in Michigan. They are the only two representatives of Ionia County.
The task force was recently implemented to serve 13 counties in West Michigan, stretching from Ionia County up to Clare County, nearly 105 miles, and across to the west to Lake Michigan.
In the event of a major disaster, no one fire department could handle a major technical emergency rescue alone, but together, through the task force, West Michigan now has an organization large enough that can work together to handle nearly any type of technical rescue.
If called upon, both Belding firefighters say they are ready for the responsibility.
“It’s something that is just in our hearts as firemen,” Moore said. “We want to do the best we can.”
Moore was asked by Ionia County Emergency Management to serve as one of the committee members for the task force and gladly accepted.
“I, as the chief of one very few departments that does technical rescue in Ionia County, was asked to get involved,” he said. “Belding has a team and has been involved with technical rescue since 1990.”
Moore said the the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Task Force is expanding its response capability as part of a nationwide effort. He said he was asked to start compiling members of the task force, and Lubitz didn’t hesitate at the chance to join.
“I do have several guys that are capable, but the one guy in the department who really wanted to do this was Tim,” Moore said.
Moore said Lubitz submitted an application to be involved in the task force and was accepted right away. Moore added that he and Lubitz are not alone in people throughout the county who are trained and willing to participate.
“There are other people trained throughout the county,” he said. “Maybe not to all of these levels, but again they don’t all have the time to invest in this. Tim and I felt we did and we want to make that difference.”
The Region 6 Task Force is now the second task force to take action in Michigan. Region 2 currently serves six counties in southeastern Michigan and Region 1 is in the process of being put together to cover the greater Lansing area.
According to Moore, incidents that the task force would respond to could be caused by a variety of events, such as a tornado or terrorist incident that could cause widespread damage to a variety of structures and entrap hundreds of people.
Other examples of events could range from mass transportation accidents with multiple victims to single site events such as a trench cave-in or confined space rescue involving only one or two victims.
Moore and Lubitz have undergone extensive training sessions in areas of trench, water, machinery, confined space, rope, structural and wilderness rescue — some areas requiring more than 80 hours of training.
“Usually each class is around 40 hours,” Moore said. “We each went for about a week in Howell to train in each area.”
Lubitz recently had to completely a structural collapse course, where simulated collapsed structures were built, forcing him to move steel and cut through columns, forcing his way through dangerous narrow openings.
Though the training is rigorous, Lubitz said he didn’t hesitate at the chance to participate.
“The toughest thing you can ask any firefighter is why you want to do this,” he said. “But for me, the biggest fear I’ve always had is being put in a situation where you can’t help somebody because you don’t know what to do.”
Lubitz says he takes the responsibility very personally, adding “If that were to happen, where I don’t know what to do, I would feel that I have not done my job, personally.”
Moore is now marking his 31st year with the Belding Fire Department, serving as chief since 2000. Lubitz has been with the department for 13 years and was recently promoted to-full time.
Alhough the tragedies are rare and fairly uncommon, Moore said two recent events put the region two task force into action.
In 2011, the task force responded to Dexter, which was hit severely by tornadoes. Before that Moore said a furniture store explosion in Wayne County that created a structural collapse situation also called action of the task force.
Moore said of three victims who were trapped inside, one was rescued thanks to the task force. He said if called upon, he wouldn’t have a second thought in heading out to respond.
“It could absolutely happen in this area,” he said. “The training, the repeated training, makes you comfortable to handle these kinds of situations.”
Members of Belding City Council recently approved a motion to accept a memorandum of understanding from the Michigan Region 6 Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) Task Force.
The memo states the city should give consent for the members to perform search and rescue activities assigned to the task force, understand the members may be deployed both in state and outside of Michigan, allow the members to participate in training exercises, be responsible for all permits, certifications, licenses and authorizations for the task force members and understand the task force members are subject to the operational control of the authority in charge in the area in which they are deployed.
Moore said no financial impact to the city is to be expected.
“The cliche is, and we ask this of all our firefighters, is that you do this because you want to help people, but it’s true.” he said. “You want to have the right outcome when you’re rescuing people.”