Firefighters train for real-world emergencies

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --

On Monday, July 10, 2017, members from seven other air force installations met here for a week long firefighter training course. The training focused on firefighter fire ground survival skills and involved individual, as well as partner, lifesaving techniques.

The first iteration of the course was a 10 day, computer-based training held at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.  Members from the Niagara fire department participated in that original training and brought the information they learned from that course here.

“When the guys brought it back to me I thought, Wow. This is a great program," said Richard L. Kennerson, chief, 914th Fire Emergency Services. “But there’s only so much that can be learned academically through a CD-ROM course. You’ve gotta get your hands dirty. You’ve gotta get sweaty."

Kennerson immediately embraced the idea of a hands-on application for the lessons. He says it’s because the skills learned will help firefighters if they are ever faced with a “no-kidding, last resort” emergency situation.

“I’m embracing it,” said Kennerson, “knowing that it’s our firefighter’s last-ditch effort. If they have the skills to get out of a facility or a bad situation, they’re going to make it, they have a chance."

Kennerson says that the focus of firefighter fire ground survival training is to teach them what to do in a “mayday” situation - a situation where a firefighter becomes disorientated, lost, injured, runs out of, or low on air,  is trapped, or whenever they have an emergency and need assistance or rescue. This course will teach them how to conserve air, how to breathe, and how to control themselves in life and death situations.

Coordinating the training for the week was Capt. Nick Pressley, civilian Department of Defense firefighter at Niagara. Pressley said that the lessons of the training go beyond the gates of the base as well.

With more than a dozen mutual aid response calls in 2016, Pressley said that it’s important for responding units to be organized to a collaborative standard. Trainers from base have taught a version of this course to every fire chief in Niagara Country and are now expanding to fire districts in Erie County.

The course taught at Niagara is a condensed version of the original 10 day course. Kennerson said that he hopes the course here will eventually be expanded from its current 5-day session.

“It would be nice if we could do 10 days,” said Kennerson. “When you do, you get to practice over and over and over. It’s muscle memory. The importance of this program is huge.”

Kennerson said that the most important part of this program is ensuring that the firefighters have the skills they need to make it home at the end of the day. He said that repetition and hands-on application is key.

Some of the week’s training included bailing out of windows, escaping from entrapments and breaching walls in simulated emergency situations.

Participating air bases were McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Fairchild, Dover, MacDill and Grissom. Members were from guard, reserve and active duty components.  At the end of the week, up to 25 visiting firefighters and 45 members of Niagara’s firefighting team will be trained in firefighter ground survival skills.