New training for self-survival of firefighters

A Coon Rapids firefighter’s attendance at a training summit in Phoenix, Ariz., in January has resulted in a comprehensive training program in modern self-survival techniques being implemented by the Coon Rapids Fire Department.

Justin Hite, Coon Rapids firefighter
Justin Hite, Coon Rapids firefighter

Coon Rapids Professional Firefighters Local 1935 paid for Firefighter Justin Hite to travel to the affiliate leadership training summit, an annual program put on by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

But it was a training program offered by the IAFF the day before the summit was scheduled to start that got Hite’s attention.

Called fire ground survival, the course focused on training to deal with a Mayday situation, a radio distress signal from a firefighter in danger while responding to an emergency, including its prevention and to make sure that operations are consistent between all firefighters, company officers and chiefs, according to Hite.

“Firefighters must be trained to perform potentially life-saving actions if they become lost, disoriented, injured, lost on air or trapped,” Hite said.

During the class, Hite learned techniques that he had not seen or learned at any other time during his 10-year fire service career, he said.

Training to extricate from an entanglement situation is Coon Rapids Firefighter Chuck Fleury. Photo courtesy of Coon Rapids Fire Department
Training to extricate from an entanglement situation is Coon Rapids Firefighter Chuck Fleury. Photo courtesy of Coon Rapids Fire Department

The different techniques in the event of a Mayday call included wall breach, entanglement, ladder bailouts, window bailouts, search and rescue and disoriented escape methods.

“As firefighters, we are always training,” Hite said.

“But in our training we don’t ever plan on becoming lost, disoriented, trapped or injured during a structure fire or at an emergency scene.

“We learn techniques on how to save other people all the time, but up to this point, we had rarely trained on what to do if we encountered a Mayday situation.”

But that has all changed now.

When Hite told fire department management about the self-survival training he had just taken at the summit and how he envisioned it could be used by the Coon Rapids department, it was immediately embraced.

And top management in the city as a whole gave full support to the training, Hite said.

Hite worked with Assistant Fire Chief Bret Gageby to develop the training program and build the props that would be needed for it.

Those training props are located outside Fire Station 1.

But the training also included working in a live fire situation during a controlled burn at a vacant home the city had acquired.

Right now, almost all members of the department have taken the self-survival training course, which involved the set of different drills – wall breach, entanglements, ladder and window bailouts, for example – that Hite had brought back from the summit, according to Gageby.

Those drills did not only include the techniques that firefighters could use to extricate themselves from a life-threatening situation, but also for commanders at the emergency scene, be it a fire or something else, responding to the firefighter’s Mayday call, for example, by making sure the lines of communication with the firefighter are kept open, Gageby said.

“We did not have training as comprehensive and modern before,” he said.

“The training was awesome. It has been a great confidence builder for firefighters when they go into a dangerous situation.”

The response to the training from firefighters was overwhelmingly positive, he said.

According to Hite, the training has been invaluable with everyone working together.

“We have never thought much about self-survival before, only about the survival of others,” Hite said.

The house that the fire department used for the self-survival and other training, including arson investigation, had been purchased by the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

Located at 94th and Flintwood Street, the vacant house, which was in bad shape, was planned to be demolished as the HRA assembled property for future redevelopment in the Port Riverwalk area of Coon Rapids Boulevard, according to Matt Brown, city community development specialist.

When vacant homes the city acquires need to be razed, the HRA will offer them to the fire department for training purposes, Brown said.

“We are glad to help,” he said.

According to Gageby and Hite, homes like this that become available for fire department training are invaluable.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]