News: VTANG firefighters spring into action
Story by Airman 1st Class Dana Alyce-Schwarz
BURLINGTON, Vt. - It’s never good to hear the sounds of breaking glass and twisting metal at the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) base. Unless those sounds are caused by the VTANG Fire Department conducting accident response training exercises as part of their summer training.
Members of the department took advantage of the warmer weather to conduct training exercises outdoors during their April drill weekend. Tech. Sgt. Andrew Sheldon, Firefighter and Assistant Chief of Training, explained that the department has a strict schedule for their training exercises.
“We can’t always train outside because of the weather,” said Sheldon, a long time member of the VTANG and a full time staff member at the 158th Fighter Wing’s Fire Department. “In the winter we balance that with classroom and technical skill trainings so that when we are able to work outdoors we can get the most out it.”
For training to be effective, it is always treated as if it were a real situation. With that in mind, Sheldon placed a call to the department to “report” the car accident. VTANG firefighters responded within minutes, arriving on site and beginning the rescue process.
To prepare for the exercise the department had not only flipped the car upside-down, but had also placed two training mannequins inside. After stabilizing the wreck to prevent further injury, these “survivors” were treated with care, safely extracted and loaded into an emergency vehicle for transport.
Maintaining a regular training schedule is essential for the department because they also respond to emergencies outside of the base, such as a semi-truck accident in June of 2013. The truck had gone off a bridge and the VTANG team had to rescue the driver from the wreckage from inside a ravine, adding an additional level of complexity and danger to the work.
The VTANG department has a large staff of permanent members, and many of the traditional Guardsmen also work in a civilian fire department off base. Senior Airman Chris Brown, a Firefighter, said that it is essential for every member to be fully proficient in all roles.
“All the jobs we do tie together,” Brown said. “And we never know what position we might need to fill on a given day. It can be challenging to fit the training into a drill weekend, but we focus on the crucial aspects of the training so that we can be ready if we’re called on.”
In addition to the skills and capabilities required of any fire department, including vehicle extrication and EMT services, the VTANG fire staff members are also required to be able to ensure the safety of the aircraft, pilots and air field. They also provide support to the Burlington International Airport which shares the runway with the VTANG.
During upcoming summer drills the department will also be working on a pilot egress exercise, which involves safely extracting the pilot from the fighter jet. Sheldon commented that the additional factors required when working with the jet make the extraction more complicated.
While the VTANG firefighters often respond to calls off base and works with local departments, the training conducted during monthly drills is unique to the Fighter Wing.
"We do have certain training goals we need to meet,” Sheldon said. “But the important thing is to ensure safety and improve our skills. We have a very strong team and they bring a lot of knowledge to the table but we can always go one step further, be that much better at what we do.”