Disaster Training Since 9/11 Credited with Organized Rescue at Bridge

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The tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse Wednesday spotlighted the Twin Cities emergency management and first responder system.

Officials, the media and many Minnesotans, including those pulled from the rubble and Mississippi River, have praised the efforts of Minnesotans in rescuing victims of the disaster.

A story in Friday’s Washington Post details a successful emergency management system in Minnesota. David Berrisford, state incident manager for Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, told the Post: “Our first responders and our state agencies know how to respond — and, quite frankly, we just do it.”

“Our inter-agency cooperation and all our disaster planning came into play and it seemed to work well,” Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack told FireRescue1 News.

In the past few years, Minnesota has been moving its emergency communications to an 800 MHz system. When wireless and cell phone systems were jammed in the hours after the bridge collapse, emergency systems functioned well. “It worked wonderfully,” David Berrisford, field services branch director for Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told MSNBC’s Cosmicblog.

Elected officials and local authorities praised the response of emergency personnel at a press conference Thursday morning:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “There is a silver lining that shines through and that is the goodness of Minnesotans and you saw it in the tremendous response of first responders and the emergency response, and tremendous outpouring of support and resources and equipment. They did a tremendous job and saved a lot of lives.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback: “Thanks to the incredible team of people who responded to this disaster. I became mayor shortly after 9/11. I was so grateful that there was already a great team in place in Minneapolis… There is an incredibly unsung hero who you haven’t seen because he is on the job: Rocco Forte, assistant city coordinator who leads city preparedness.”

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman: “I was the mayor of St. Paul on 9/11 and I remember how unprepared we were then in terms of communication. I watched folks go through training. You hope that day never comes we have to use it. The people of Minneapolis used it yesterday and used it in an incredible way and they showed leadership. In the end they saved lives. So again, I express my appreciation and admiration to the folks who have been on the scene and the job that they are doing.”

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison: “I’m so proud to be a Minnesotan today. We’ve shown that compassionate people and responsible government can bring about results for people. I just want to say that I am so proud of the people who jumped into the water and went the extra mile to rescue and save our citizens.”

Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack: “We’ve gotten a tremendous response from our mutual aid partners in the metro area. This has gone better than any large-scale incident that I’ve been at.”

Emergency workers also praised the assistance from civilians in the first minutes after the collapse.

Firefighter Raul Ramos, who was among the first responders Wednesday night, told the Associated Press, “One thing we learned since 9-11, it was how to work together, how to work with each other, between departments and civilians.”

“I don’t think we could have done it without the civilians,” firefighter Tim Dziedzic told the AP. “It was interesting to see the civilians taking over, almost.”

Shanna Hanson, Minneapolis firefighter and captain on Ladder 10, has been a very visible member of the first responders. She was videotaped by many major networks diving into the Mississippi to search cars for survivors. She said of the rescue efforts, “It was not frantic; it was pretty organized.”