Several Martinez firefighters joined hundreds from across the state recently to assist in search and rescue efforts after the collapse of an Atlanta parking garage.
Firefighters from Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue gave up days off to help search the rubble of downtown Atlanta's Centergy parking garage, which partially collapsed just after noon June 29.
About a 100-square-foot section of the four lower floors of the six-story parking deck caved in pancake-style, crushing about 38 vehicles, said Bobby Stewart, spokesman for the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Department.
No one was injured in the incident.
"That's God looking out for somebody," said Martinez-Columbia Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann. "At 12 noon, during lunchtime, I'm surprised we didn't have 30 or 40 people killed."
When the Georgia Mutual Aid Group made calls asking for help, 11 Martinez firefighters responded. The first crew headed to Atlanta expecting to staff a downtown Atlanta station while that station's crew worked at the garage.
"Us being country boys, No. 1, we didn't know the area, and No. 2, we're not equipped to handle high-rise-type fires," Kuhlmann said.
The crew instead went to the garage, where Kuhlmann coordinated fire suppression efforts. He oversaw four, four-member crews made up of firefighters from Martinez, Smyrna, Rockdale, Covington and Atlanta.
Those firefighters stood ready to protect search and rescue teams as they searched all of the nearly 700 vehicles parked in the garage, including the 38 vehicles in the collapsed area.
"We were actually inside (the garage) about 20 yards from where the collapse was, with the hose line," firefighter Donnie Head said.
Kuhlmann said about 225 pieces of firefighting and emergency response equipment was at the garage, being manned by about 700 people. But no more than 20 people were allowed inside the structure at a time.
Shoring teams built wooden braces to hold up the concrete slabs while the emergency personnel worked. Other teams, some using dogs, searched for anyone inside the rubble.
"A couple of times, you could hear some ... creaking noises, and you could actually see some of the shoring move a little bit," Head said, adding that when that happened, everyone cleared the building. "We had a (quick) way out."
The first crew worked through the night and into the next day when the second round of Martinez firefighters arrived to relieve them. While search and rescue efforts continued, Kuhlmann said tow trucks were pulling damaged vehicles from the building.
"They were towing them down the road with the alarms going off," he said.
Martinez firefighters and other volunteers were sent home late June 30, as the scene was downsized enough for the Atlanta department to finish the search and clean-up.
Stewart, the Atlanta Fire-Rescue spokesman, said the volunteers' efforts were invaluable.
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