MEDICAL LAKE, Wash – Atop a pile of concrete rubble at the Waste Management landfill in Medical Lake Monday, teams of Coeur D'Alene firefighters and K-9's were on a mission: to find anyone who may be trapped underneath – dead or alive.
But this time, it was all a training scenario. The concrete pile replicates a collapsed building or the result of a natural disaster like an earthquake or tornado. Volunteers were buried a foot or two under the concrete surface, and the K-9's were tasked with finding them.
"Everybody spends time getting buried," Captain Jeff Sells of the Coeur D'Alene Fire Department told KHQ's Kelsey Watts. "It can be a little unnerving when you're not used to it. Depending on how many dogs go through you can be buried for several hours at a time."
There is no other program like it in the Inland Northwest, and it was born out of one of the most tragic days in American history.
"After 9/11 each of the states was given money to develop hazard response teams, and what Idaho did was develop three collapse search and rescue teams," Captain Sells explained.
However, there was no money for K-9's. So Sells helped start the "Idaho Disaster Dogs" nonprofit, and now the program is getting national recognition. The teams support crews across Idaho, Washington, Oregon and are registered with FEMA. They were put on standby for recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, the massive earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in American Samoa – but were never called out because there were plenty of federal resources already on the ground.
The department has four "live find" K-9's and one cadaver dog. They train year-round in various scenarios and have been used to help on local missing persons cases.
It's a lot of hard work and training Sells and his crew hope they never have to use in a real life rescue or recovery mission. But if they do get the call, they're ready.
"If all we ever do is train, that would be great," he added.
To learn more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Idaho-Disaster-Dogs/144257998923776?fref=ts