News: Firefighters hone skills with high angle, confined space training
Story by Pfc. Nikki Phongsisattanak
When buildings unexpectedly collapse, people caught off-guard inside can find themselves trapped in a life-threatening situation. But special teams of firefighters stand by ready for action, to respond and apply their specialized rescue training if a situation like this were to occur.
To stay prepared, firefighters with high-angle and confined-space teams from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s Fire Stations Two, Five and Six, to include engine and truck company, participated in their annual high-angle and confined-space training at the base Fire Department Training Area, June 15.
“We bring in a source from outside to teach us the specialized training because there are significant points to this training that keep us safe as well as the people we’re going to (rescue),” said Glenn Zurek, assistant chief with Marine Corps Fire and Emergency Services Division, MCB Camp Lejeune.
Members of Urban High-Angle Rescue Training from Philadelphia and East Stroudsburg, Pa., visited the base to teach the 48-hour course and refresh the firefighters on the training, ensuring that their skills never rust.
Urban H.A.R.T. Rescue kicked off the training with about eight hours of class time, covering topics such as knot-tying methods, equipment checks, hazard assessments and scaling and rappelling techniques.
After the classroom review the teams geared up and started the practical application, covering both high-angle and confined-space training drills.
“We work high-angle and confined space-training together,” said Zurek. “The reason why we do that is because we use various different types of rope-rigging techniques that can be used in both types of training. Different techniques are used for multiple situations such as scaling down the side of buildings or pulling a person through pipes.”
With more than 13 different types of knots and ties, knowing when and how to use each type can be difficult.
“It’s just a matter of re-learning your techniques so that you can do it in both horizontal and vertical planes, because they work hand-in-hand with one another,” explained Zurek.
Another key part of having firefighters trained with these skills is the fact that the base is starting to expand in the number and size of buildings it has. Having personnel trained to operate rescue missions, if needed, is essential.
“We’re getting to the point now, where sometimes the height that a person goes is beyond our highest ladder, which is a 104-foot platform device,” said Zurek. “Anything above that we can’t reach, so we have to do it another way, which would be climbing up to the top of the (structure) and using rope techniques to descend upon the person being rescued to do what we call a ‘pick-off’ and lower them down to safety.”
The base has numerous construction sites and structures, such as radio towers that would require special rescue capabilities.
Firefighters risk their lives scaling six-story buildings and crawling into pitch black tunnels to save people who have been trapped and sometimes injured. If it were a real rescue mission, firefighters may have to deal with hazardous materials and gasses released.
“The issues that play a role in how successful a rescue is can depend on the tightness of the space, how bad the victim is, the fatigue on rescuers going in and the amount of training they’ve received,” said John Parker, vice president of Urban H.A.R.T. Rescue. “There’s a lot that goes on during a rescue.”
Federal regulations prevent firefighters from taking part in these missions unless they are trained. There are only three teams aboard MCB Camp Lejeune trained to proficiently execute these operations and the knowledge is passed to other firefighters even if they haven’t received the training. In this case, the teams from Fire Stations Two, Five and Six are the core groups receiving the training and will act as subject matter experts who will then teach and supplement other teams with the training to better prepare every firefighter.
“Things never go according to plan, because we don’t know when or how long a structure can hold up or how the person trapped will react,” said Parker. “We can plan the entry but from that point on anything can happen. That’s why we have a guy suited up on standby in case they have to go in and save another firefighter.”
Urban H.A.R.T. Rescue members critique and evaluate everything the firefighters do to ensure that their skills are well-tuned for such high risk operations.
“They have to be proficient in everything otherwise they can’t be part of the team,” said Parker.