It has been almost a year since 13 people were killed in the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
Former Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack, now the fire chief in Baltimore, reflected on the incident during a classroom session during the second day of Firehouse Expo.
Clack said the days following the collapse were filled with many risks -- all of which his department was able to avoid.
"The bridge was groaning and moving as people were working. It was settling into the river," he said. "It was a nightmare."
The collapse occurred during rush hour at approximately 6 p.m. on Aug. 1. In all, there were approximately 190 people on the bridge at the time of the collapse.
By 7:55 p.m. all survivors were treated and transported from the scene. One survivor died at the scene and the remaining bodies were recovered from the river by Aug. 20.
There were initially reports of hundreds of people missing. That number was trimmed to 35 and later to 13.
Clack said the scene was filled with confusion and activity following the collapse. "Many people when they are faced with a disaster fail to see the scope," Clack said.
A voice of a first responder can be heard over dispatch radio saying, "The bridge has collapsed, there's cars in the water. Send everything you've got."
To make things even more difficult, multiple jurisdictions were involved since the collapse dealt with a federal bridge that was owned and maintained by the state that sat above a river patrolled by the sheriff's department.
Despite this, Clack said things went flawlessly with all participating agencies cooperating.
"There would be one backboard with four people from different agencies transporting the victim," he said.
Clack said that some of the factors that helped the situation included the warm weather, the standstill traffic and the lack of an overhead structure. The proximity of hospitals also helped -- there were three less than a mile away from the bridge.
Clack said that by attending FEMA training at Mt. Weather, Va., key problems were identified within the department dealing with incident command and were quickly addressed through the use of grant funding, just in time for the collapse.
"If this would have happened five years earlier, I don't think the outcome would have been as good," he said.
Another factor that aided response was the department's new 800 megahertz radio system installed shortly before the collapse made it possible for the needed number of radios to be in operation.
Some of the problems the department experienced were things the chief said can be learned from. Firefighters wore their structural turnouts near the water, which became wet and heavy. He said triage tags were not widely used, making it difficult to identify patients.
There also were challenges with the Family Assistance Center as some reporters attempted to pose as family members to gain access to victims.
Clack said that the best way to prepare for large-scale catastrophes is to build relationships with those around you. He said to keep building your cell phone database and take notes on how those people can help you when a disaster occurs.