Seattle firefighters use viaduct to train for earthquake response

SEATTLE -- The Alaskan Way Viaduct is, slowly but surely, disappearing from Seattle's waterfront. Before it is gone for good, firefighters are making it their playground.

Wednesday morning, Seattle Fire crews could again be found perched atop the viaduct's remains, slicing and torching their way through concrete and rebar.

The training, which began Monday morning, involves jackhammers and blowtorches, granting firefighters a rare opportunity to practice tricky rescue operations.

While the focus is on how to be most effective during a major earthquake, it also helps them plan for construction accidents or any kind of building collapse.

"Should something like that happen, this type of training is about as realistic as we could really get, inside the fire department, without actually collapsing a structure itself," Seattle Fire Captain Brian Maier said.

Crews involved in this week's training will be the first ones to dive into the debris, should the Big One strike, and locate potential victims.

Seattle Fire says learning starts in the classroom, but often the stuff that sticks takes a little elbow grease.

"Coming out here and actually doing it, getting our hands on the job, that's what provides the actual muscle memory," Maier said.

"Not so we do it right, but so we've done it so many times we can't do it wrong."

While this week's sessions are unique, Seattle Fire says they actually do similar exercises with crews around the region every year.

Agencies from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties send members to participate in roughly 80 hours of joint training annually.