CES firefighters practice skills to rescue each other

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

A firefighter lies still on the ground. The loud beeping of his pass alarm echoes in the air around him, letting his fellow crew members know he hasn't moved in at least 20 seconds. Another alarm starts to buzz, alerting the team that the fallen firefighter is running out of air.

A story above the fallen man, his comrades look down through a three-foot square hole at where he lies. They loop ropes and lower a man through the hole, where he harnesses his teammate to be lifted to safety then awaits a rescue himself.

The exercise, executed properly, takes only minutes, but it can mean the difference between life and death for a fallen firefighter.

On Thursday, firefighters and paramedics from Central Emer-gency Services were at their training grounds on Mackey Lake Road making sure they know just what to do in such a situation.

CES personnel, like firefighters everywhere, regularly train for various situations. Their training facility includes indoor mazes of furniture, debris and wires for firefighters to prepare for the worst situations they might face. They also can simulate smoke filling the maze and light a live fire at one end of the building to practice extinguishing a blaze.

Often, the firefighters use the maze to practice pulling "victims" out of a number hazardous situations. This week, however, they were more focused on rescuing each other.

"Getting you out alone is one situation. Getting me out with my gear is a completely different situation," said paramedic Capt. Lesley Quelland. "I weigh over 200 pounds with my gear, and I'm one of the smaller ones."

In addition to adding body weight, the fire-fighting gear also takes up space and can get caught on a number of obstacles, making a rescue even more difficult.

That's why Jim McCormack, of the Fire Department Training Network in Indianapolis, has been on the Kenai Peninsula the past two weeks: To teach firefighters to take care of each other.

"There are 100 firefighters who die every year, and 30 to 40 (of the deaths) are while fighting fires," McCormack said. "We want to take that 30 to 40 and reduce it.

"We're here to try to save somebody's life."

McCormack offered a "train the trainer" session for firefighters from Nikiski and Kenai fire departments, as well as CES, last week during the Alaska State Fire Chiefs and Firefighters associations' training conference in Kenai last week.

"For the area, that's great. They're all taught the same," McCormack said, explaining that the collaborative training will help staff from the various departments to work together more smoothly in an emergency.

McCormack stayed in town this week to help the five CES trainers Quelland, Dale Lawyer, Mike Hancock, Mike McConahy and Jack Anderson teach their peers the skills they'd learned.

Among the drills practiced was the Denver exercise, named for an actual event in Colorado.

During a blaze at an office building, Denver Fire Department firefighter Mark Langvardt went down in a tiny, second-floor room next to a narrow, vertical window. The floor behind him burned out, leaving the window as the only rescue path. Unfortunately, in the real situation, his comrades didn't know what to do.

"It took 53 minutes to get him out. He died," Quelland said. "Unfort-unately, we learned how to do this because others didn't know."

CES crews also practiced the Nance drill described above, which simulates a situation in which a firefighter has fallen through a floor and has to be rescued from above. This drill also is based on a real-life event, in which John Nance of the Columbus (Ohio) Fire Department was trapped in the basement of a commercial building after the floor collapsed under him. After multiple efforts from several teams, Nance, too, died.

Though the CES crew took a few tries to perfect the drill, they soon were tying knots quickly and lifting bodies up and down the hole with only a couple hefts.

"They're doing excellent, really great," McCormack said.

And, Quelland added, hopefully they are gaining the practice they need for a real-life scenario.

"When a crisis happens, you don't think well. Unless you're trained, you may not know what to do," she said. "It's heartbreaking when one of your own goes down. That's what this class is about: how to rescue our own."

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