- July 7, 2021
A junkyard might seem a strange place for firefighters to take a grueling training course, but where else were they supposed to find an 18-wheeler, school bus and virtually unlimited supply of cars to be crushed?
East Manatee Fire Rescue District's Technical Rescue Team took the 40-hour Vehicle Machinery Rescue Technician class, part of the Florida Urban Search and Rescue series, the week of April 26. The Vehicle Machinery Rescue Technician class taught firefighters how to respond to accidents involving large commercial and passenger vehicles.
The Technical Rescue Team consists of 16 members, with four to six members on each 24-hour shift, although the fire district would like to add more. East Manatee firefighters who are interested in joining must first take the classes the rest of the team has completed.
"It speaks highly to the quality of individuals that we have working here," said Battalion Chief Paul Wren, who is also a member of the Technical Rescue Team. "This is a lot of work. It's a lot of training. It's a lot of time and extra above and beyond effort. Everyone of these guys that are on the team, they display that."
The Vehicle Machinery Rescue Technician course consisted of a classroom session April 26, rescuing dummy passengers from accidents involving large vehicles such as 18-wheelers and school buses April 27 and 28 and impalement and disentanglement rescue April 29.
On April 30, the firefighters were faced with a test — a practice session involving a surprise mixture of the lessons they learned the previous four days as well as a written examination and instructor feedback.
"This is above and beyond any regular firefighting duty," Wren said. "Being able to add technical rescue skills to the complement that our district already has, just takes us and our capabilities to the next level. It allows us to be able to serve our community with a much broader spectrum of skills."
Wren said there are a number of major thoroughfares in and around the East Manatee fire district, from I-75 to State Road 70 and University Parkway to S.R. 64. Those are the types of roads where accidents involving commercial vehicles can and do happen. He said the Vehicle Machinery Rescue Technician class will ensure firefighters are as prepared as they can be when they face similar situations in real life.
"It's not a matter of if, it's just a matter of when," Wren said. "A lot of these guys, they've had multiple extrications, even previous to this advanced training, where we've had to make it work with commercial vehicles involved. This allows us to work more efficiently, more safely, to be more productive and precise."
Wren said the other benefit of taking the course is the ability to help neighboring fire districts with specialized, heavy-duty calls in the future. He said it's a "huge deal" for the fire districts, and firefighters are excited to become a local resource.
"These calls are the types that you will never forget," Wren said. "They're the ones that will stick in your mind. Ultimately, every call we run, we hope for a successful outcome. It's not always realistic. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, it's just not in the cards. But what we want to be able to say at the end of the day is we came, we did the very best that we could."
There are other classes available for the Technical Rescue Team to take. The team completed a rope rescue course in 2016 and will soon plan when to take classes on the remaining three categories: confined space rescue, trench rescue and structural collapse rescue.
In addition to technician classes, each category has an operations class that is more of an introduction to the topic. For example, the Vehicle Machinery Rescue Operations class prepared firefighters for accidents where they would rescue people from passenger vehicles and large trucks and vans. The class was open to the whole fire district, rather than limited to the Technical Rescue Team, because of the large amount of vehicle extrication calls the fire district responds to.
If all 10 courses — a technician class and an operations class for each of the five different categories — are completed, the fire district hopes to be certified as a Type I Light Technical Rescue Team. Doing so would allow the firefighters and their equipment to become a deployable asset in the Suncoast region under Florida's State Emergency Response Plan.