Operational Readiness Exercise puts SC rescue teams’ life-saving skills to the test

MARION, SC (WMBF) - This week, the South Carolina Emergency Task Force and local first responders are practicing real life-threatening scenarios in Horry, Florence and Marion counties.

The scenarios are part of an Operational Readiness Exercise to test and evaluate the performance of the task force with local first responders.

In Florence County, teams practiced swift water and rescue scenarios. In Horry County, they performed rope rescue exercises. In Marion County, a team took part in a collapsed house rescue mission.

"We don't deal with collapsed buildings every day so an exercise like this helps us hone our skills and become more proficient at it, and again, we'll recognize somethings that we need to do better and somethings that we need to work on and that's OK. That's what the exercise is for," assistant state fire marshal Ken Kerber said.

The South Carolina Emergency Task Force is made up of firefighters from all over the state. Sixty-five volunteer firefighters who are members of the task force participated in the exercise.

Marion Assistant Fire Chief Jackie Yates said these exercises are crucial to knowing what to do and how to do it safely.

"It gives the local first responders the training necessary to be able to respond to a situation like this and take care of the problem, to mitigate the hazard," Yates said.

The Marion exercise had three parts. First, local responders came in to assess the situation. Seeing that the house was unstable, they then called in the task force for backup. The teams worked to stabilize the building before rescuing the victims.

With extreme weather common in South Carolina, such as the 2015 flood and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Kerber said the task force is constantly working to improve their rescue strategies.

"Even with a hurricane you have severe high winds," Kerber said. "You have people that are displaced, you have people that may walk away from their homes and become lost."

Kerber said local first responders are a crucial part of the strategy, being the first ones on the scene.

"We are working with the locals and the locals recognize the abilities that we can bring to help them, because again, we're here to help them and that's to me most important," Kerber said.

The teams will finish up the exercises Thursday evening.

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