CES Explorers trains emergency crews of the future

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2003

After spending a couple nights learning about the theory and methods for extricating car crash victims from their vehicles, it was now time to put the theory into practice.

Four high school students, part of the six-person Explorer Post at Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, eagerly looked forward to getting some hands-on experience cribbing a vehicle and stabilizing it.

Though not responding to an actual emergency, the CES Explorer Scouts would be working with an actual car and a sport utility vehicle -- their own vehicles, in fact.

And, they would not be practicing their skills out along a Kenai Peninsula Borough road, but right inside the CES fire station at the corner of Binkley Street and the Sterling Highway, amid the polished, bright red fire trucks and other rescue vehicles.

"Bunker drill!" shouted Jack Anderson, paramedic-firefighter and one of the Explorer Post advisers, commanding the team members to put on their "bunker gear," a term used to describe the fire-retardant coats and pants, rubber boots and helmets firefighters wear.

"You're kidding," said one team member, who quickly realized Anderson wasn't, as the other three Explorers already were kicking off street shoes, pulling oversized pants over their jeans and climbing into their knee-high boots.

"Good job, Nicole," Anderson said as he gazed at a stop watch that revealed CES Explorer Post Capt. Nicole Macdonald was suited up and ready in less than one minute.

"One (minute)-fifteen, Justin," he said, announcing Justin Nusunginya's time of just over a minute.


Anderson and post advisor Lori Tyler use Explorer post member Kimber Martin to demonstrate a devise used during vehicle rescues. Teens participating in the Explorer program learn about emergency medical work and firefighting.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"One-twenty-five, Kimber," he said of Kimber Martin's effort.

"And one-thirty, Tony," Anderson said, reporting the time of Tony Grundy, who had uttered the mild protest at the start of the drill.

Macdonald is a senior at Skyview High School; Nusunginya is a junior who home schools; Martin is a junior at Skyview; and Grundy is a junior at Soldotna High. The two remaining members of the Explorer Post, who did not attend the extrication training, are Daniel Harro, a SoHi senior, and Bryan Nusunginya, Justin's twin brother, who also home schools.

Despite the differences in gender and schools -- or perhaps because of it -- the Explorers would soon display the unity of the team and a singleness of purpose as they approached the night's lessons.

Kimber Martin drove her Pontiac Grand Am into the fire station and the exercise began.

"First we have to determine if the car's a unibody or has a frame," said Anderson.

Deciding the Pontiac was of unibody construction, the Explorers then recited to Anderson why that was important.

Cutting through the sides of the vehicle's body or through the bottom would compromise the structural stability of the car, they said, making it unsafe to work on removing any trapped driver or passengers.


Nicole Macdonald, Justin Nusunginya and Kimber Martin laugh as Martin adjusts Tony Grundy's oversized firefighting gear during a break in a class dedicated to learning how to stabilize a wrecked vehicle.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

They would cut through the roof.

Martin didn't show any signs of shock. She knew this was just a practice drill and her car was not going to be cut open tonight.

Next, Anderson coached the team to determine whether the vehicle was equipped with air bags, and if so, how many.

When asked why that mattered, the Explorers again recited from classroom training that any air bags that had not deployed in the wreck could present a potential hazard to the victim or the rescuers working to extricate them from the vehicle.

Now Martin popped the hood of her car and the team learned to locate the car's battery and its cables, which would be cut, again to remove a potential hazard to the rescue.

Finally, the group had reached the point where the actual hands-on work would begin.

Receiving permission to borrow equipment from one of the handy, nearby CES rescue trucks, the group began gathering short cut pieces of oak 4-by-4s and 2-by-4s, most of which had rope handles attached to one end, and brought them to the scene of the pretend car wreck.

Being the ever-watchful overseer, Anderson softly instructed his four pupils to stack the wood in an orderly staging area near the vehicle, rather than simply piling it up in a heap.


CES firefighter and paramedic Jack Anderson leads a classroom discussion for Explorer post members.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The wood would be used to "crib" the vehicle -- after all four tires were deflated.

That got Martin's attention.

Anderson assured her the tires would be reinflated after the exercise with one of the numerous air hoses hanging unnoticed until now from the fire station's ceiling.

Pairing off, the students now moved to build cribs of stacked wood beneath the vehicle so it would be stabilized when lowered by the tire deflation.

Macdonald and Martin went to the driver's side of the car and Grundy and Nusunginya to the passenger side.

Without uttering a word, one team member -- with a bent toward engineering -- silently envisioned and designed the structure as another -- gifted with physical strength -- carried the wood to the exact spot where it would be needed.

After four wooden pedes-tals were erected under the car near each wheel, each team member was given a tool by Anderson and the air was let out of all four tires. As expected, the car lowered itself solidly and safely onto the crib constructed below.

Checking to ensure the car was stable, Anderson voiced his approval.

"You guys did a good job."

The team then went around the car with Anderson, who pointed out which door posts would be cut to remove the roof of the car and rescue the victims. By now, Martin was unshaken by the news, knowing her car was safe from power saws and pry tools.

In fact, even if this were a real emergency and Explorer Scouts were riding along with professional responders, as they often do, the scouts would be allowed to use only hand tools such as hack saws and crow bars. Only the pros are permitted to use power tools.


Photo by M. Scott Moon

Skyview High School senior Nicole Macdonald and CES firefighter/paramedic Lori Tyler talk during a shift at the station. Macdonald spends two hours each school day at the station in an on the job training program in addition to her duties as an Explorer.

Photo by M. Scott Moon


Skyview High School junior Kimber Martin uses wood blocks to secure a vehicle during a lesson on auto crash rescues.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

After one hour, the training session on Martin's car was complete, the tires were reinflated and she drove it back out to the safety of the parking lot behind the fire station.

Martin and Macdonald took advantage of the short break in the action to help Grundy adjust his red suspenders and get his fire pants to fit better, all laughing as they did so.

Recapturing the attention of his students, Anderson asked Macdonald to drive her Nissan 4X4 Pathfinder, which has a structural frame, into the station bay next.

During practice on the first vehicle, another CES Explorer adviser, paramedic-firefighter Lori Tyler, joined the group and was now getting ready to depart for "another engagement" -- not, however, before the two high school girls teased her about possibly leaving to "go on a date."

With the second vehicle in place, Anderson asked, "What's the first rule of getting into the car?"

"Try to open the door," they responded in unison.

The CES Explorer program is a part of the Boy Scouts of America. It draws guidelines from the parent organization's rules and bylaws, according to Anderson, who has been an adviser for about 16 months.

CES Explorers can work toward Boy Scout merit badges and they must take Occupational Safety and Health Administration training on bloodborne pathogens, hazardous materials cleanup and lock-out/tag-out, Ander-son said. The latter trains people to stabilize power equipment to remove potential mechanical or electrical hazards while the equipment is being repaired.

CES Explorers meet every Thursday through the year for classroom training, hands-on training such as the extrication exercise described above, or for ride-alongs, when Explor-ers go out on calls with paramedics and firefighters responding to actual emergencies.

"You do get really close to the people in the Explorers 'cause you work as a team," said Macdonald. "It's really a lot of fun."

Macdonald is working toward Emergency Medical Technician I certification and hopes to pursue a medical career as an emergency room doctor. She has applied to Bennington College in Vermont to begin school next year.

Justin Nusunginya may one day become a paramedic and has considered a career in law enforcement. He and his brother, Bryan, also want to join the U.S. Marine Corps when they turn 19.

Martin wants to further her medical training and would like to become an EMT.

Grundy said his reason for joining CES Explorers is to get the training and experience needed to get into paramedic school. He plans to join the U.S. Army.

Harro already has enrolled in a 2 1/2-year paramedic-firefighter program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., and would like to one day work with CES in Soldotna or with the fire department in Anchorage.

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