Fire training session teaches skills and how to cope when short-staffed
HUNTINGTON — As a cold January rain fell, Hunter Long methodically climbed the wet ladder, cleared the debris from the second floor window sill and crawled headfirst into the building for a simulated rescue.
“I’m going in,” yelled Long, an 18-yearold Cabell Midland High School student who has been volunteering with the Barboursville Fire Department for the past two years.
Long was just one of dozens of firefighters from about eight to 10 fire departments who were training Saturday and Sunday at the Tri-State Fire Academy, located on W.Va. 2.
Both career and volunteer firefighters with various levels of experience came from as far away as Shepherdstown and Moundsville.
Conducting the training were five guys from the Harvest Volunteer Fire Department in Harvest, Alabama. They have a company, Truckless Truckie Training and Tools, which for the past two-and-a-half years has offered training for departments in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
“This has been very helpful,” Long said. “We don’t get to do this a lot and not a lot of classes come around, so when we get the chance it is great to get a big group of guys out here. It’s awesome to have a group that’s everything from 18 years old to chiefs of certain departments coming out to train together.”
Jamie Dzierzak, who has volunteered with Barboursville FD for five-and-a-half years and spent the past two-and-a-half years working as a professional firefighter for the city of South Charleston, had helped build some of the scenarios in the training tower.
On Sunday afternoon, the firefighters were taking the skills they had been accumulating throughout Saturday and
Sunday morning and putting those to the test, going into the rooms that would be filled with smoke, that would contain beds and cribs and that would include live people to rescue.
Those skills honed over the weekend include ladder skills and VES — or vent, enter and search skills — that are used when a firefighter is entering an active fire.
Dzierzak said this kind of realistic training would not have been possible without the Fire Academy, which is run by Huntington Fire Department Capt. Darren Demattie, letting them use the facility at no cost.
“There is only so much we can do in the station — we can’t build rooms like this at our station. That is why we are thankful for the Tri-State Fire Academy,” Dzierzak said.
Dzierzak said the community at large helped fund the weekend, including many businesses that donated either money or food to feed the firefighters.
Those businesses included All American Fire Equipment, Henson-Kitchen Mortuary, Sheetz, McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, First State Bank and Heritage Fire Equipment.
Jake Chappell, one of the four trainers who made the seven-and-a half-hour trip from Harvest, Alabama, said they have been training fellow firefighters all over the Southeast in the realities of most departments running short of people.
“We got a mixture of career and volunteer firefighters here and no matter what, we are all feeling the effects of short staffing, so we are teaching doing more with less,” Chappell said. “Some of these tasks are, I wouldn’t say bypassed on a fire scene, are placed on the backseat. So we are trying to build their confidence with ground ladders. The traditional way is to have two people to have them in service, but we are teaching one person throws.”
Jeremy Northcutt, one of the trainers, said that the idea is to make sure firefighters are trained.
“The good thing to do for firemen is to make them a jack of all trades,” Northcutt said. “You may have someone who only wants to handle ladders but you teach them to handle any task that is possible because you never know with short staffing.”
The Harvest trainers said the Fire Academy props for creating a more realistic scenario for firefighters is very helpful for training.
That included a first floor hoarder’s room that mirrors some of the tough situations that firefighters find themselves in inside some residences.
“When you come in here, this is something that you are going to run into in a residence or a hotel,” Northcutt said. “You get furniture, beds and doors, and even the carpet, they put in for this realistic effect of a bedroom,” Chappell said. “Whereas most academies teach you to sweep a room, but without all of this stuff in here, it is an empty concrete room and it is not real. We go into situations where people have a lot of junk in their homes and we’ve got to get used to that. We have got to make it as real as possible.”