When training programs took place away from the confines of the PSTF, members of its staff were invited to observe the training in an effort to reinforce the notion that there was an audience for this type of training. Even more important was the exposure of the college staff to how involved and intricate these rescue operations could be. With safety being the first priority in all training activities, the concept of “just making do with what you have” identified an even greater need for a place that all emergency responders could train without having to “just make do.”
In the next big step forward, 2009 was the year that took the process to the next level and helped to make the vision a reality. The RFD took on a nine-month project of training a group of firefighters to the technician level for structural collapse rescue. This project involved offering each of the nine courses four times each to accommodate the department’s four-group system. Beginning in January 2009, one of the nine New York State-certified structural collapse courses was given every month. Through a collective agreement between the RFD and the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC), resources were shared that allowed the burden of putting on a program of this magnitude possible. The RFD was fortunate to have a number of its members previously certified as instructors in the collapse program. This allowed them to supplement the instructor staffing needed from the OFPC.
Working with Deputy Chief Brian Rousseau from the OPFC’s Special Services Bureau, we were able to schedule both the instructors and the equipment needed for the training to make this happen. Each of these components consisted of sizable commitments by both agencies. Instructor scheduling over such a long period was in of itself a full-time task. In the end, we had used 29 instructors and facilitators. The instructional team included RFD members with New York State certifications in the collapse programs, state-certified collapse instructors and career staff from the OFPC who operated as both facilitators and as instructors in some courses.
Equipment was also needed to complete the hands-on courses. The OFPC assigned three of its training trailers to the program. These trailers carry most of the specialized tools required at a structural collapse incident. A 45-foot tractor-drawn trailer contains a traveling void-search simulator. Having this on site let the students train under conditions usually restricted to fixed training facilities. To complete the list of needed equipment in both type and quantity for the series, the RFD used equipment from its Heavy Rescue and Special Operations Response units. Having enough equipment and materials to keep everyone busy maximized the student contact hours during the training programs.
A Place to Train
Now that we had instructors and equipment, we needed to find a place to do the training. Working with the MCC, the RFD’s Special Operations Unit secured a section of the training grounds that became home for the collapse courses. Once the location was secured, things moved quickly.
The training facility is across the road from the Greater Rochester International Airport. Using the “let’s go talk to the neighbors” mentality, they approached the airport’s operations director with a request for metal for hot cutting and concrete for breaching and breaking training. A few days later, a small convoy of heavy equipment descended on the training grounds. The need for metal to cut was answered with the arrival of a salvaged utility tug. These small, but powerful vehicles are made of plate steel and are full of steel plates that created the ballast that allowed them to move heavy loads. This one tug ended up providing enough material to support the entire course’s cutting needs with some left to spare. Along with the tug came a few truck loads of scrap concrete: pipes, slabs and other scrap materials to get the program started. The college already had a working agreement with the airport for assistance with heavy equipment, so these components fell in place seamlessly.
Many training courses can rely on simulations to complete their objectives. Learning the skills to safely and efficiently use a torch or systematically breach a section of concrete do not fall into that category. Without the materials to practice these skills, the training would have little value to the students.