By Sabrina Bates
When “Mayday, Mayday” comes across the line of radios within a department that has been battling a blaze, it creates an even deeper sense of urgency for firefighters. When everyone else goes running out of a burning building, fire crews are running inside. Facing lack of oxygen, heavy equipment, unstable structures and limited visibility, an issued “Mayday” adds to the stress of a firefighting situation. For the Martin Fire Department, the sense of team is prevalent. When one member of the team faces a struggle, it is up to the Rapid Intervention teammates to get their teammate to safety.
Recently, members of the Martin Fire Department spent long days of exhaustive training running in and out of the former site of Grove Apartments off of the UT Martin campus.
The two-story apartment complex provided ample opportunity for the group to practice training scenarios involving downed firefighters. From rescuing one of their own from a rooftop to an attic to a basement and situations of entanglement and structure collapse, the goal was to build on the established teamwork and add even more training to their skill levels.
Chris Chalk and Johnny Poff of Lexington spent four days with the crew members at Grove Apartments offering lessons in rapid deployment of firefighter rescue as part of the international training group services the pair offer to fire departments. Earlier this year, the duo visited Martin to provide survival training. Last week’s lessons merged individual survival training with successful rescue of teammates in distress.
“You guys go through a lot of training, all of the time. This time we are focusing on the whole team effort. One shift can’t do it; two shifts can’t do it — it takes the entire team. You guys are going through a whole lot of training like your lives depend on it, because it does,” Chalk shared with the group.
“The strong should be building the weak. I always want to leave something better than when I found it. When I leave here with you guys and go home, I always feel that I have left the team better than I found it,” he added.
Training for the group included a team carrying a fallen firefighter across a hallway, up stairways and down stairways. At one point, only two firefighters were expected to haul their teammate out of dangerous situations, carrying a limp body clothed in full turnout gear in tight spaces and up and down flights of stairs. The end goal each time was to get their downed teammate to oxygen and get him cooled down quickly. Some would carry their teammate on their back; others would carry them by their suspenders while another carried their legs.
In preparation for the training, the firefighters spent time creating holes in walls and floors throughout the apartments. While they had an opportunity to prepare for training; in an emergency situation, firefighters have only minutes to cut a hole to a basement to rescue one of their own. The training exercises modeled real-life scenarios. Some instances, firefighters ran out of oxygen and were forced to change out tanks while holding their breath.
Another scenario involved a firefighter who had fallen into a basement. The lone firefighter issued a “Mayday” call across the radios and teammates on the floor above him sprang into action.
Using the pumper hose, a firefighter slid down the hose to get to his teammate. Using uniform straps, the firefighter strapped his fallen teammate to the hose to be hoisted from above by other members of the rapid intervention crew. After getting the downed firefighter safely to the floor above, the rest of the team was tasked with hoisting the second firefighter to safety. Seconds counted in the training scenarios. An oddly-located knot in a pumper hose created difficulty hoisting a firefighter. Even wearing dry gloves impacted the grip needed to grab the hose to get to safety.
“Set yourself up for failure to be prepared to make mistakes,” Chalk noted to the MFD crew.
As they ran through the life-saving scenarios, improvement was being made each time for all. The level of team-building grew with each situation that demanded firefighters to rely on one another to successfully complete each training task. At the end of the week, the group of Martin firefighters had not only trained as if their lives depended on it; they trained as if their teammates’ lives depended on them.
While they are limited in the valuable tools they can bring into a firefighting situation, they learned their most important tools they have are their teammates.