Smokin’: Local firefighters have rescue training

Local firefighters Jared Bergner, left, and Mike Southern carry “victim” Phil Beebe out of the training tower on Wednesday morning as part of their training. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

NEWTON—Newton firefighters Jared Bergner and Mike Southern rescued a co-worker on Wednesday morning who had passed out or was injured in a burning building. They entered a top floor of the building and found him, grabbing him under the arms and ankles to carry him to safety by an open window.

This wasn’t a real rescue, since it was a training exercise, although the training tower on the Newton Fire/EMS training grounds in Newton was filled with “smoke,” or theatrical smoke that allows people to breathe it in. It just inhibits vision, like real smoke does.

When local firefighters arrive at a fire, their first priority is saving lives and training for that is important.

“We must answer the question–is there anyone still in the house?” said Phil Beebe, Newton Fire/EMS division chief of training. “It is common for crews to enter the front door to search for victims and put the fire out. However, there are instances when there are known victims in the house, but we can’t get to them by going through a door.”

That’s where the department’s VEIS training came in, last week. VEIS stands for vent-enter-isolate-search.

“This is the specific scenario our training was intended to address,” Beebe said. “We trained on quickly entering a house through a window, shutting the bedroom door, finding the victim and then moving them to the window for removal.”

They also discussed the hazards of entering a burning building with the fire happening below them and how to make sure the floor is not about to collapse.

“We reviewed the use of our thermal imaging cameras to help us find the victim and check the floor and the rest of the room for heat,” Beebe said. “Isolating the room by closing the door is very important; we reviewed why this is true. By taking out the window to reach a victim, we could be allowing fresh air into the house and making the fire bigger. By isolating the room – closing the door – we eliminate the flow path of fresh air to the fire. Next, we reviewed searching for and moving the victim to the window.”

Beebe said VEIS is a specific kind of rescue training. Its technique is used to quickly enter a burning house through a window and then take out any victims they find.

There’s a couple of reasons they train.

“Our citizens deserve and expect the best service they can possibly receive when they dial 911,” Beebe said. “Our department’s mission statement includes the words ‘Dedicated to a constant pursuit of excellence’. That’s why we train.”

Beebe said he recalled at least a couple of instances where they’ve helped someone out of a house during a fire.

“It happens very quickly,” he said. “Part of the crew then cares for the victim in the ambulance and everyone else continues putting the fire out. I think helping someone out of a potentially life threatening situation is why most firefighters join this profession and they would be honored to have the opportunity. To my knowledge, our department has never used the VEIS technique to remove someone from a window.”

Regarding the VEIS training, Beebe said they had 42 members complete it.

“I organize fire and EMS training for Newton Fire/EMS,” he said. “Sometimes, I lead the training; more often other members of our department lead the training after returning from specialized training sessions.”

With this training, however, firefighters didn’t learn anything new in regard to specific skills.

“However, it’s important that we are all speaking the same language,” he said. “If any firefighter on our department is asked to ‘VEIS’ a window, all of us now know exactly what that should look like.”

The department has a lot of training throughout the year.

“In 2020 from January to April, we focused on EMS training for our EMTs and paramedics,” Beebe said. “Examples of training topics include — we are obviously a combined fire and ambulance department, so we train in both disciplines.”

They concentrated heavily on EMS training—cardiac arrest drills, advance stroke life support, difficult airway/intubation, burn treatment, EKG proficiency, trauma, pediatric emergencies, firefighter rehab and seizures.

“That’s not all the EMS we completed, but a good sampling,” Beebe said. “After it warmed up outside, we started focusing more on fire training — timed car fire drills, timed offensive fire attack drills, rural water supply – how we fight fires in the country when we don’t have hydrants, review firefighter line-of-duty death reports from around the country. Again, this is just a sampling of training we completed this year.”

In addition, they have specialty teams, which do their own training. Those groups include Technical Rescue Team and Disaster Medical Support Unit. In addition, Fire Marshall Garry Crittenden coordinates the training for fire investigators.

The training the department had a couple weeks ago was a basic review of ladder operations with each crew spending around 45 minutes deploying ladders to various levels of their training grounds, climbing in and out of windows, on and off the roof, and rehearsing flowing a fire hose from a ladder.

There’s a lot of training, as their formal training sessions are from 8 a.m.-noon, Mondays through Wednesdays. They’ve also initiated a 50/50 Training Challenge.

“From Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, each crew should work approximately 50 24-hour shifts. They will be assigned 50 different training drills to complete before the end of the year. This is in addition to the formal training sessions mentioned earlier.”

One drill includes a 3:1 Hauling System and to finish this drill, the crew needs to take carabiners, pulleys and a rescue rope to create a hauling system capable of pulling a heavy load out of a steep ditch or similar situation.

“The point of these sessions is to keep us sharp on our skills and identify deficiencies in training so we can work harder in those areas,” Beebe said. “Between running 10 to 12 fire or ambulance calls per day, fire and EMS training, vehicle maintenance, physical fitness training and other special projects, our members don’t have much down time. Luckily for us, the people that gravitate toward a career in emergency service are smart, aggressive and always up for a challenge.”

Regarding training, Beebe said because of the pandemic, they haven’t been able to train with the public.

“A responsibility of every fire department is community risk reduction,” he said. “That is, getting out into the community and talking to people about what they can do to keep themselves and keeping the ones they love, safe. We would encourage families, teachers and organizational leaders to consider ways they can promote safety. Newton Fire/EMS is also considering how we can continue to spread safety messages remotely.”

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