Rescue training readies firefighters to handle accidents

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Cape Girardeau firefighter Vicki Moldenhauer used an ax to cut a windshield for removal during an extrication training exercise Tuesday.By Bob Miller ~ Southeast Missourian

The smell of spilling, sizzling antifreeze was absent.

The cries of an injured passenger, the urgent chatter between radios, the curious passers-by and the adrenaline rush that goes with all those things were not at the fire department training facility Tuesday morning.

And that made the conditions perfect for practice.

The only elements the firefighters battled were a hot and humid June morning and a late-model Chevrolet Impala that was just waiting to be torn apart.

The extrication training that took place Tuesday morning helped prepare nine firefighters on tactical and psychological levels.

During these training sessions, which take place about twice a year, the firefighters become familiar with the various tools -- such as the Jaws of Life -- and the techniques of rescue. Among other things, they broke windows, popped off doors, peeled back the roof and raised the dashboard.

Three firefighters from the Rescue 4 squad and three from the Ladder 2 squad received training. Battalion chiefs Steve Niswonger and Fred Vincel supervised the event.

Gaining confidence

Perhaps the most important thing the firefighters gained, firefighter Travis Schubert said, is sureness. The last thing a firefighter wants to deal with when he arrives at a serious accident is uncertainty.

"Training like this lets us gain confidence," said Travis Schubert, who has been with the fire department for 2 1/2 years and was the firefighter with the least experience in extrication at the training session. "We do things slow and methodical so we can be effective on the scene."

Even the most experienced firefighters, like Niswonger, have adrenaline rushes when called to an accident. Niswonger recalled a situation last week when firefighters were trying to extricate a victim while a rescue worker had crawled through a window and was performing CPR.

"Watching one guy give CPR while you're trying to cut them out, that's pretty stressful," Niswonger said. "You're working as fast as you can. It takes time, but you feel helpless."

The training takes the stress elements away and allows firefighters to clearly think about the situation. Perhaps a certain tool or technique would be better suited for one situation than another. Different makes and models of cars require different methods of extrication -- sometimes cutting into the frame also means cutting into the fuel line. Sometimes cutting out a steering wheel out is a waste of time.

"You need to be fast and precise, but that means you have to be slow and methodical," said Schubert.

Schubert, who has been a paramedic since 1992, said two things happen when adrenaline takes control. First, adrenaline makes one move faster and that tends to cause mistakes and compromise safety. And an injured rescue worker is of no use, Schubert said.

The second thing that can happen, he said, is "tunnel vision," where a firefighter is so focused on one task that he is unaware of the surrounding situation.

"Training like this teaches us to open our eyes," he said.

Wrecker training

Seabaugh's Wrecker Service was also at the fire training grounds, working independently of the fire department on turning upside-down cars upright.

Sonny Kincade, the manager and owner of the towing business, said he had some drivers working on certification.

"It's nice to work in a controlled environment," Kincade said. "Along the same lines with the fire department, it's nice to practice so if the real thing happens, we're ready for it."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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