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    Fort McCoy firefighters train year-round to be ready

    Fort McCoy firefighters practice diving under ice for rescue operations

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | A firefighter wearing a full diving suit and related equipment dives into an open hole...... read more read more

    In recent years on post and in surrounding communities, Fort McCoy firefighters have saved lives using their emergency-medical skills to crises.

    For example, in 2018, Fort McCoy firefighters responded to floods in local communities that saved lives. And early in 2019, firefighters with the department’s dive team responded to a call of children falling through ice where they provided key support to local emergency services.

    To be ready for any emergency or situation, Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department personnel train year-round to maintain certifications and skills.

    In February, about a dozen firefighters with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department took their turns getting in a suit, strapping on an air tank and full face mask, and diving into the depths of Big Sandy Lake under the ice on Fort McCoy’s South Post for diver training.

    The divers covered depths of up to 15 feet or more and completed several types of rescue scenarios under the guidance of fellow firefighters and from instructor Jeff Zilliox with the Marineland Dive Center of Onalaska, Wis.

    Divers took turns going in and out of the same hole that was cut in the ice. Each diver was tethered with a connecting line that included a communications connection. Divers were under water for 15 to 20 minutes on average, completing lost diver and search scenarios. Zilliox said the underwater scenarios help them learn what it’s like in case they have to be involved in a real-world emergency.

    Such a call came in Jan. 6 to go to Perch Lake in Sparta, Wis., where children fell through the ice, including one who went under the ice. During that emergency, Fort McCoy responded with seven firefighters who were on duty.

    “Three additional firefighters responded from home to assist the dive team,” said Fort McCoy Fire Chief Tim Jorgensen. “Firefighters initially put on their Stern suits and searched with pike poles. While they were searching, they also deployed a remotely operated vehicle into the water and used it to assist in the search. We then put a diver into the water who was able to locate the victim.”

    “We try to train the same way every time, so no matter what the conditions are, we are used to training with the equipment and can respond to an emergency quickly,” said Zilliox, saying it’s a “train like you fight” approach that works well for diver training.

    Since 2014, Fort McCoy firefighters have also increased training in technical rescue. One of the first training classes in technical rescue that firefighters learn is the Rope Rescue I course, said Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Olivier.

    “This is a very important foundation course because everything learned in Rope Rescue is applied in other technical rescue courses,” Olivier said. “It involves using ropes and rappelling in high- and low-angle environments.”

    According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), the training includes understanding, directing, and operating simple rope-lowering systems. It also includes safely ascending and descending a fixed-rope system in a high-angle environment and understanding and operating a rope-rescue system intended to move a load horizontally in a safe and controlled manner.

    “These are skills we teach all of our personnel,” Olivier said.

    In August 2019, Deputy Chief Brady Brever said the Fort McCoy Fire Department supported driver-operator certification training that not only included a Fort McCoy firefighter as a student but also helped 19 Army Reserve Soldiers receive their certifications on fire trucks.

    “They attended three classes resulting in certifications in fire apparatus engineer, mobile water supply apparatus driver-operator, and aircraft rescue firefighting apparatus engineer,” Brever said. “The classes were taught by the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute and funded through the 416th Theater Engineer Command.”

    As Olivier said about the ropes training, it can also apply to all the training Fort McCoy firefighters complete. “Each piece of training builds on all previous training and continues to build more skills,” he said.

    A well-trained department of personnel means readiness is high, Brever said. The Fort McCoy Fire Department’s dedication to maintain accredited status is proof.

    The department is accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. This means the department is one of 62 Department of Defense agencies and one of only six Army installations to achieve Internationally Accredited Agency status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International and the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

    The process for this accreditation is voluntary and provides agencies with improvement models to assess their service delivery and performance internally, according to accreditation requirements. Agencies then work with a team of peers from other agencies to evaluate their completed self-assessments.

    “We have also been able to use the Commission on Fire Accreditation International’s process as a proactive mechanism to plan for the future of this agency and locate areas where we can improve on the quality of the services we provide,” Brever said following a past reaccreditation process.

    As demonstrated with emergency-response calls in the past year, the fire department supports not only Fort McCoy but the surrounding communities through mutual aid and automatic aid agreements in Monroe and La Crosse counties and through the Wisconsin Mutual Aid Box-Alarm System.

    These agreements lay out how Fort McCoy can provide or request aid for a variety of emergencies, such as structural fires, underwater rescue, auto accidents, and ambulance calls. And through training and readiness, the department’s firefighters will continue to remain ready for any response they are called to do, Jorgensen said.

    See more fire department training coverage by visiting, and

    Learn more about Fort McCoy online at, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”



    Date Taken: 10.03.2019
    Date Posted: 10.03.2019 16:49
    Story ID: 345895
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US 

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