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Rescue practice

Tamara Miller
NWS Firefighters PU 9-25 Preston Utley/putley@vaildaily.com Gilbert Trujillo, left, watches firefighter Kyle Roberts as he uses "splitters" on a section of a car that will allow him to remove the front door with the "cutter."
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Cutting cars apart on a Saturday afternoon may sound silly, and even criminal to some, but for a firefighter, it’s simply good practice. Cutting cars was just one of several training exercises resident firefighters got to practice during Saturday’s training symposium in Avon. The Eagle River Fire Protection District hosted the event, which aimed to give resident firefighters a chance to brush up on skills, learn about new technologies and bond with peers. Firefighters from Vail, Eagle River and Snowmass Village attended the training camp. “The biggest goal is to provide training that is hands-on,” said Justin Ayer, an Eagle River resident firefighter and president of the resident firefighting program. The participants got just that. Big Steve’s Towing donated a dozen vehicles for the event, allowing firefighters to practice using splitters and cutters – more commonly known as the “Jaws of Life” – to get into a crashed vehicle. People are frequently extricate from crashes on Interstate 70, Ayer said. The firefighters divided into groups to practice using splitters and cutters on cars to simulate an extrication. A group working on one car first removed a passenger-side door by creating a gap, shoving the equipment in the gap and pulling the door off. Then one snapped the roof from the body of the car as others lifted the roof, transforming the vehicle into a haphazard convertible. The term “firefighter” may be a bit of a misnomer. While firefighters do fight fires, they also respond to car accidents, river rescues and collapsed buildings, Ayer said.

Because fire stations are located throughout the community, firefighters typically are the first to respond to calls for help. Because of this, they not only need to know how to get patients out of trouble, they are certified in CPR, first aid and they work in conjunction with ambulance crews, Ayer said. In this area, car accidents keep firefighters busy most of the time – which means knowing how to use the latest automobile rescue technology is key.Hybrid cars may get good gas mileage and are better for the environment, but they pose a whole host of new challenges for emergency service officials. Because the car runs on gasoline and electricity, extricating a patient out of a wrecked hybrid car requires some new skills to ensure the rescue is done successfully and safely. Angela Weeks, a Snowmass Village firefighter, said she hoped to learn more about how to dismantle a hybrid car while minimizing the risk of electrocution. “It’s good to get more experience in dealing with these kinds of things,” Weeks said.

Big Horn Toyota brought a hybrid vehicle to the camp to demonstrate how to make the vehicle safe for a rescue. Other companies brought equipment for training exercises, as well. Knowing the features of a particular car involved in an accident is key, said Reggie Blacke, a Vail resident firefighter. Modern vehicles, for instance, have safety airbags that are supposed to deploy in an accident. But sometimes they deploy after the accident. Firefighters need to know how to disconnect the power to prevent air bags from deploying while trying to save a patient, Blacke said. The group had to test their physical strength as well. To simulate the weight of firefighting equipment and tools, each had to wear a 40-pound vest, run up four flights of stairs and carry down a 170-pound dummy. Being fit is key, Black said, and the crews at the Vail Fire Department work out regularly to stay in tip-top physical shape. “We don’t just do it for ourselves, but for the safety of the people we serve,” he said.

What’s a resident firefighter?According to Justin Ayer, president of the Eagle River Fire Protection’s resident firefighting program, resident firefighters work about 34 hours a week for a department as they work toward full certification. Their work pays for the required certification through Colorado Mountain College. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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