Leaders pushing to create urban search and rescue team in Allegheny County

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Whether it’s a bridge collapse, major land slide, train derailment, flooding or a tornado, some local representatives believe the emergency response can be faster in southwestern Pennsylvania. They are pushing to increase public safety for major disasters.

In January, the unthinkable happened.

The Fern Hollow bridge collapsed, injuring several people.

Two Allegheny County state representatives said the emergency response was appropriate but believe it can be better because that same day additional resources on the other side of the state were requested.

“On that morning a request to PEMA was initiated at 10:51 am for a K9 search team. That search team arrived at 4:15 pm to search for entrapped victims nearly 6 hours later. That’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Natalie Mihalek.

Rep. Mihalek and Rep. Dan Miller are working to fix that. That’s why they introduced new legislation that would create a second type 1 urban search and rescue team in Allegheny County.

The only one that exists right now is in Philadelphia.

“The system that was in place delivered as it was supposed to do, the issue is we can have a better system,” said Rep. Miller. “It takes skill, it takes practice, it takes organization, and it takes committed resources.”

In House Bill 2492, the new team would assume primary coverage in western Pennsylvania with the same level of capabilities, resources and training.

Legislators announced the bill during Thursday’s news conference at the Upper Saint Clair Fire Department where they were joined by local firefighters, EMS personnel and emergency response officials.

“In our profession, it’s our job to prepare for the unknown the increase in disasters including the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse,” said Assistant Chief Brian Kokkila for Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. “It’s an example of a disaster that require highly skilled resources that beyond the scope the local emergency response capabilities.”

Both legislators are asking the state for $19 million to add a team in southwestern Pennsylvania. It would not take any resources from the team already in Philadelphia.