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First Time Deployment for Urban Search & Rescue Team Outside Spokane Area

Tour Commander, 509.625.7100

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 3:55 p.m.

“It came so fast,” stated a community member when asked about a wildfire that moved through the town of Malden, Washington on September 7, 2020. 

The Spokane Fire Department (SFD) Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) team was deployed through the Washington State Fire Service Resource Mobilization Plan yesterday to support efforts in Whitman County. This mobilization was a first for the team, which typically responds to structural building collapse incidents and other technical rescue emergencies in and around Spokane County.  The team was sent to search and grid the structures in Malden, Washington after a wildfire tore through their community on Monday afternoon. 

In total, fifteen (15) SFD personnel responded to the call including: US&R specialists, information technology (IT) technicians and Community Risk Reduction support. Their initial tasking was to address locations where community members were unaccounted for, and identify buildings that had been impacted by the wildfire. Four teams spent the late morning and early afternoon completing a grid search of the buildings of the town. In collaboration with Whitman County Sheriff’s Office, Whitman County Department of Emergency Management, Malden Fire Chief, and Whitman County Coroner, the team was able to successfully complete the search. 

After completing the initial tasking, US&R personnel assisted the U.S. Postal Service with the removal of the town safe in the local post office. The town Post Office was destroyed by the fire, and building was deemed hazardous. Staff of the US Postal Service maintained a constant guard of the post office safe until it could be carefully removed and relocated. 

As our personnel spent the day with the community, we heard stories of the people and its history. “The resilience of the people of Malden will be shown in the coming weeks and years. They are hardworking, community minded people” stated a community member. 

Community members don’t hear much about US&R specialization because it hasn’t always been a part of the fire service. The US&R concept and capability was developed in the early 1980’s after recognizing a recurrent critical need for specialized rescue equipment and highly trained personnel during global natural and human-caused disasters globally.  The Region 9 US&R Taskforce is a regional team of trained personnel from Spokane Fire Department, and Spokane County Fire District 9 (SCFD9). The Taskforce supports US&R needs in and around Spokane County. 

The wildfires of this season serve as an important reminder that emergencies can happen at any time. Be prepared by having your to-go kit ready to be able to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Additional details regarding community members, structure loss, and recovery will be released by officials from Whitman County.