Fire-Rescue-EMS hitting the ropes

Published 9:25 pm Thursday, August 16, 2012

Firefighter Chris Brock descends via rope from the water tower on Linnie Perry Road Thursday as (from left) Firefighter Matt Van Nortwick, Engineer Josh Ingram and Instructor Joe Burris look on. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

It was no accident that Firefighter Chris Brock hovered in mid-air, several stories above the ground. He deliberately stepped off the edge of the water tower, dangling by a rope, before steadily lowering himself to the ground. Next came Engineer Josh Ingram; after him, Firefighter Matt Van Nortwick.
Thursday, the three men participated in a fixed rope systems course, part of a rope rescue technician qualification, requiring them to, first, safely lower a 175-pound dummy from the water tower then rappel themselves down the same distance. The drill was part of Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS’s bid for Medium Rescue Certification.
Currently, the department holds a certification for light rescue, which equates to basic training in motor vehicle, industrial, residential and agricultural extrications; rope rescue; lifts and stabilizations; and land and water searches.
With Medium Rescue Certification comes advanced training in all of the same areas as well as the equipment that goes with them. What that means is greater serviceability for local residents, said Lt. Doug Bissette. The equipment and training are the tools for most any type of rescue.
While a minimum of eight personnel in the department must participate for the certification, Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS is bypassing the minimum, training all three shifts of department personnel.
“If you only have the minimum of 8 and if those aren’t on shift, or training somewhere else, you don’t have anybody. If you train everybody, you’re always covered,” Bissette said. “It provides constant coverage.”
The plan to upgrade to a more advanced status came from outside the department. Flatiron Construction Corp., the engineering firm responsible for construction of the U.S. Highway 17 bypass around Washington, needed a nearby department with the right equipment, because bypass construction meant employees would be working suspended over both land and water. The company’s offer to buy and donate equipment specific to any rescues they envisioned set the ball rolling for the department’s higher certification. Before the bridge was opened to traffic, fire personnel were simulating rescues from the new construction, rappelling off its bridges to rescue “victims” trapped below.
Since then, Lt. Jonathan Hardin has worked his way down a North Carolina Association of Rescue & Emergency Medical Services checklist, amassing the required equipment and a FEMA grant for a new equipment truck was applied for and awarded, Bissette said.
Hardin tracked down Instructor Joe Burris, the Eastern Pines Fire Department assistant chief known all over the state for his rope and rescue expertise, Bissette said.
The man leading the fire department through the required 75 hours of rope training is on several national rescue teams, one international team, and is considered one of the best in the business, according to Bissette.
When three more weeks of rope rescue training and a victims management class scheduled for September are completed, the department will have the certification they’ve been working on almost every day since early June. When they do, they’ll be the only department in the county certified for Medium Rescue.