Canada Task Force 3 (CAN-TF3) Toronto Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) is a self-sustaining team with specialized equipment to operate technical search and rescue tactics in significant structural collapse emergencies that have mass casualties. CAN-TF3 achieved a significant milestone by becoming the sole national team that verified its airlift deployment readiness in partnership with Canadian Forces (CF).
At 0600 hours on 21 November 2008 CAN-TF3 mustered at the Toronto Police Service Public Safety Unit (TPSPSU) to check and sign for a duffle bag and knapsack of cold weather gear and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The team clambered on the Toronto HUSAR bus that took us to Pearson International Airport. From there, CAN-TF3 boarded a CF Hercules on their way to test their ability to respond to a major disaster by participating in the largest multi-jurisdictional disaster response exercise held since last year.
Exercise Trillium Response involved all levels of government and simulated a massive ice storm in the northwestern Ontario, similar in scope to the challenge that devastated eastern Ontario and Québec in 1998. The challenging exercise involved more than 1,500 participants from the Ontario and Canadian governments, 25 municipalities and three First Nations communities, the province of Manitoba, and non-government organizations.
The CF Hercules touched down in Thunder Bay where CAN-TF3 boarded City transit busses that brought them to a huge desolate grain elevator at the dockyards along Lake Superior. Nineteen military pallets had arrived earlier after being airlifted via a CC-177 Globemaster III. This is the largest CF cargo plane as it is about three and a half sizes bigger than a Hercules. Each pallet held four skids of equipment that were secured with CF webbing. They looked like daunting giant rubix cubes that contained thousands of items.
It was an icy-cold night, but CAN-TF3 bundled up on the busses and hit the ground running to strategically rearrange their rubix cubes of cache. They quickly set up generators, lights, tents, and an assortment of equipment. During basic training, all team members learned how to put up tents, so everyone contributed to build a fully functional extreme weather base camp. Eleven tents were erected for Command, Communications, Medical, Mess, Sleeping, Water, and Showers. The tents were insulated and had diesel-fuelled heaters to offer some relief from the cold outdoors. CAN-TF4 Manitoba made their base camp immediately north. The close proximity of the Toronto and Manitoba teams enhanced mutual respect, comradery, and interoperability.
Initially, a reconnaissance team assessed the site to provide information for the Commanders to formulate a plan of attack. A search component ordinarily enters the hot zone first with equipment and highly trained K9 to locate people trapped, followed by a rescue team converging to extricate possible survivors and administer life-saving medical treatment. Meanwhile, Logistics maintained base camp with the huge cache of equipment and sent down what the Rescue Manager requested at emergency site operations.
At this realistic exercise, HUSAR was tasked with extricating people who were buried under tonnes of concrete, steel, wood, and other debris. Some victims were pinned in crushed cars that were buried under the heavy rubble.
Non-stop search and rescue activities continued on and inside “the pile” for almost three days before the exercise concluded and site operations reconvened to base camp. The rubix cubes of cache were repacked accordingly to stringent CF specifications, identical to how it all arrived. These complex tasks were accomplished without a hitch because the entire dedicated team picked up the ball with unbridled enthusiasm.
After CAN-TF3 members reassembled the cache, CF personnel affixed the pallet webbing in the middle of the night, as flatbed trucks repeatedly hauled the gear back to Thunder Bay Airport.
Before the break of dawn, transit busses delivered CAN-TF3 to the airport where the pallets and the team were loaded on a CF CC-177 that touched down in Toronto on 24 November 2008. The HUSAR bus dropped the team off at TPSPSU to account for the returned HUSAR deployment gear.
This was an extraordinary hands-on learning opportunity that reinforced the teams’ commitment, courage, and dedicated service. CAN-TF3 Toronto HUSAR is well-prepared to deploy anytime, anywhere, when duty calls to save lives.