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Estero--USAR Teams Train

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  • Estero--USAR Teams Train

    Firefighters practice specialized-skills rescue

    Wednesday, August 20, 2003

    By CHRISTINA HOLDER, [email protected]

    The minutes were critical for the victim buried deep inside the 8-foot-trench filled with water. She was unable to move in the sandy wet soil that acted like a suction to her body.

    Jose Orma, center, from the San Carlos Park Fire Department, tosses an orange cone to Lazaro Llerena, left, from the South Trail Fire Department, during training exercises at the RMC South Florida Materials quarry on Corkscrew Road in Estero Monday afternoon. The cone, which Orma had just freed from the trench, simulated a victim stuck in the T-shaped hole. Rescue workers from the Bonita Springs, Estero, Fort Myers Beach, San Carlos Park, South Trail and Iona McGregor fire departments took part in the exercises, which are part of a yearly recertification program. Photo by David Ahntholz

    A crew of more than 40 firefighters lined the outside of the T-shaped trench at the RMC South Florida Materials quarry in Estero on Monday, holding large wooden boards against brittle walls of sand to keep them from collapsing. One firefighter turned on a pump that filtered oxygen into the trench while another used a device to test the air for harmful chemicals.

    Finally firefighters hanging onto the slats of ladders were able to free the victim from the sand, but she had no words of thanks.

    She was a traffic cone.

    Yet rescuing the bright orange cone — instead of a live victim — did not lighten the mood or the approach for firefighters practicing specialized rescue skills as part of a local multi-agency effort.

    "This is real life," evaluator Robert Hoecherl said. "You can train in a simulator, but that is not real life. This is just as dangerous as the real world."

    Firefighters from six Lee County fire departments are participating in the three-day course sponsored by the Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. The USAR team also includes personnel from Lee County Emergency Management. Participants are members of the USAR 72-member team, which is funded by local participating fire districts for responding to local and state disasters.

    "We started out three years ago just doing a local response," said team logistics specialist Bill Lees. "After 9/11, the state decided they wanted to fill that gap."

    Firefighters from Bonita Springs, Estero, Fort Myers Beach, Iona McGregor, San Carlos Park and South Trail fire departments are taking the annual course in trench, rope and confined space rescue to refresh skills and prepare for accidents that Lees predicts will occur in the future considering the area's many ongoing construction projects. The training began Monday.

    "If you think about the sheer number of construction projects in this county, it's amazing that it hasn't happened here," he said.

    Lee said one of the biggest challenges rescuers face in Florida is maneuvering around its weak soil.

    "All ground in Florida is considered C soil," he said.

    Soil is classified by three grades, A through C, with C being the weakest, Lees said. The sandy composition of Florida makes it easier for the soil to break, as firefighters experienced during Monday's trench exercises.

    "It happens all the time," Lees said.

    Debbi Redfield, spokeswoman for the Bonita Springs fire district, said many people do not realize the danger and seriousness of a victim being trapped in a trench or confined space.

    "It takes a tremendous amount of manpower to get someone out," Redfield said as team members positioned supports and ladders to stabilize the trench.

    She also stressed the importance of people on the scene relying on the rescue crews because they are trained. Otherwise, the situation could become even more disastrous.

    "When someone sees their co-worker trapped, they panic," she said.

    Hoecherl, a battalion chief for the Ft. Lauderdale fire department and a consultant at Safety Solutions of Boyton Beach, was on site on Monday to evaluate the firefighters' performance.

    "They weren't standoffish," he said. "The object here is not to stand around; it's to develop a plan of action."

    It took one hour and 3 minutes for the crew to pull the cone from the trench, and some rescuers said they felt the pressure.

    Some were moving quickly along the trench's edge, shoveling large clumps of soil behind the supporting boards to fill in gaps where the walls had collapsed. Others were at the bottom of the trench, close enough to touch the victim.

    South Trail firefighter Lazaro Llerena worked with San Carlos Park's Jose Orma to rescue the victim.

    "There's always pressure," Llerena said. "You never let up."

    Contact Staff Writer Christina Holder at 213-6039 or [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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