EMERGENCY CREWS PUSH PREPAREDNESS; They Showed off Their Skills as an Introduction to Hurricane Season

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COLEMAN

Jimmy Knight lounged beneath a canopy Saturday at the St. Johns Town Center as a member of the Urban Search and Rescue Team rappelled down 80 feet from a fire engine ladder.

The 28-year veteran and retiree of the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department might have been firmly planted in a lawn chair but, in his head, Knight was reliving years of fighting fires and saving lives.

"He makes it look easy, but it sure isn't," Knight said with a knowing glance at the rescue worker dangling from a thin, elastic band high above the ground.

Members of the Urban Search and Rescue Team of Florida Task Force 5 put on a demonstration for St. Johns Town Center shoppers as they displayed the lifesaving equipment and techniques they use during catastrophes.

The 120-person search and rescue unit is a branch of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department that specializes in responding to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Chief Larry Peterson said this annual event is a way for the community to learn about a specialized group of emergency response experts they wouldn't normally see unless they were in serious danger.

"These guys train more than anyone in the department," Peterson said. "The public deserves the chance to see what they do."

In addition to the aerial display, team members explained the different pieces of equipment they use and led tours of the fire trucks. Even the team's four-legged crew got in on the action.

Dog trainers guided six search-and-rescue dogs through an elaborate ladder obstacle designed to simulate an emergency-response situation. Children in plastic fire helmets cheered and clapped as the canines sped through the course.

Saturday's demonstration allowed the search-and-rescue team to introduce a new resource. Lt. Jim Knight, son of the retired Jimmy Knight, is communications manager for the team, and he was showing off his crew's new addition. …