As we head into the dog days of Summer 2020, a single common thread exists in my conversations with rural fire departments from around the country. With COVID-19 still very much alive and active, these fire departments are struggling to find new and engaging training opportunities. Understandably, outside hands-on training programs are few and far between. Lack of opportunities notwithstanding, travel restrictions, “red states,” “green states,” and all of the other challenges that go into trying to send firefighters to training events or bring outside fire instructors in house make the task nothing less than daunting.
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On the other hand, some departments are realizing that training opportunities are where you look for or find them. Often those opportunities are right in front of us. In my situation, farmers and ranchers here in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho are into their second and third cutting and bailing and harvesting of alfalfa, wheat, hops, barley, etc. In a month or two, the potato harvest will take place in Southern Idaho, which offers a whole other plethora of agricultural equipment. Pre or post harvest seasons offer great opportunities to brush up on agricultural machinery rescue. Combines, swathers, bailers, harvesters, and all of the ancillary equipment can be made readily available for rural fire department training sessions.
In my more than 17 years here in rural Idaho, I’ve never experienced a farmer or rancher that isn’t more than willing to offer equipment and experienced operators—often those operators are members of the fire department. Remember too, that many of the aforementioned harvest seasons see a huge increase in heavy transport vehicles and increased agricultural trucking equipment traffic on local roads and highways. This increased traffic offers the perfect time to address or readdress traffic incident management plans and operations. Parking apparatus, firefighter operational safety, best practices, and safe and efficient traffic control operations should be taught and reviewed at least yearly, if not quarterly. Traffic incident management is not a sexy hands-on training program, BUT it doesn’t have to be boring. I always start my traffic programs off by asking the attendees if they know what the number one and number two causes of volunteer firefighter line-of-duty deaths are. The number one answer is cardiac arrest. The number two answer is dying from being whacked on the scene of, responding to, or returning from a traffic collision response. THAT info usually gets their attention! These types of classes also offer great spin-off training opportunities for things like driver/operator trainings. I start these classes by asking students if they have any idea how much each of their department’s apparatus weighs. Do they know how long it takes to stop each apparatus when traveling at certain speeds? Then, I add the variable of our winter snow and ice on the roads. These types of trainings can be fun and engaging if offered by the right instructor and in the right manner.
So, what about rural fire departments that don’t have agricultural happenings? Maybe your rural department is responsible for covering a section of major highway or freeway that runs through your response area. Do you offer a good amount of hazmat training? We NEVER know everything that is transported through our districts or response areas. Do you do extrication training with local towing or local heavy duty towing services? A good wrecker service can not only be a valuable resource and asset at a crash site, but it can also be a great source for instruction on how it does what it does and what tools, services, and equipment it has that can help make your job quicker and safer. If you are lucky enough to have access to, or a good working relationship with, heavy duty/rotator wreckers, then you have a built in training partner who likely has as much or more stabilization equipment and techniques than you’ve even thought of. Not only that, but remember that vehicle stabilization, and “heavy” vehicle stabilization and vehicle recovery is all they do. They don’t fight fires, do emergency medical prehospital care, or any of the other types of things that we respond to on a daily basis. After spending some quality training time with a good heavy wrecker crew, your mind will likely also realize that these brave souls and their equipment can be a huge critical resource for a number of other rescue calls. I have personally used heavy wrecker services for trapped or entangled livestock and wildlife rescues as well as specific confined space rescue calls.
Keep in mind that whether it’s agricultural equipment owners or heavy wrecker towing services, not only do they offer great training opportunities for you and your crew/department, they typically look forward to learning from you and your department. The cooperation between your department and these valuable resources can result in a bountiful harvest for both of you. The more you train with these resources, the better you both get at your respective crafts. Ultimately, the people we serve also get added value when they call us for help.
CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.