Planning and executing a viable and appealing training program is a daunting task. Funding and time are always in short supply and generating interest in the same old, routine subjects can be difficult. One way to counteract this is to work with agencies outside your department to conduct and...
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Don't disregard the rest of the military, either. I spent 20 years in the Army and found it to be quite different from the Hollywood view. I found the Army to be non-insular, willing to work with anyone who shows a willingness to break some sweat. The military has a fantastic amount of resources, invented the Incident Command System (ICS) (or at least stole it from the Germans) and are addicted to training. If you've got a military base anywhere near you, it would be highly worth your while to go out and make contact with them and see what they'd like to do in the way of joint training.
Industry can bring a lot to the table, and we can reciprocate. Whatever industry you have in your area can provide you with some of the toughest training sites around; real-world sites that you may have to respond to someday. On the other hand, the confined space rescue standby guys charge an arm and a leg to respond to these sites. We in the emergency services can act as the "standby" crew for our industrial neighbors provided we meet certain standards outlined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). CFR 1910.146(k)(2)(iv) states that to qualify as an emergency response team, we must train on-site annually. This satisfies both sides of the house; industry gets an inexpensive standby team and the emergency responders get some great training. I know of several agencies that have approached the industrial groups that they provide emergency response teams to and have received replacement equipment from these groups at a minimal cost compared to what it would cost to pay for one of the expensive stand-by teams.
We in New Orleans have built excellent relationships with some of our local companies. We approached a concrete manufacturer, Hanson Pipe & Precast, to see if it would let our urban search and rescue (USAR) team use some of its excess concrete for training. Three years later, after holding monthly training sessions at Hanson, and after holding an LSU 80-hour Structural Collapse Technician class at Hanson, we feel we have a fantastic relationship with them.
We have a serious problem in New Orleans. We are rebuilding New Orleans East after Katrina, an endeavor which involves a great deal of trench digging. We have had several trench collapses and would like to retrain our heavy technical rescue squads on trench rescue, but our soil is so evil that two recent LSU trench classes were canceled due to collapses during training. Hanson offered us six eight-foot high, U-shaped culverts with which to construct an intrinsically safe trench rescue-training aid. They moved the culverts, placed them, surrounded them with dirt, added a 10-foot-by-10-foot concrete box with a specially cast cover for confined space training and added concrete tubes with slabs in between them for our USAR training. Then they surrounded it with dirt and are now looking for some sod to finish it off. All of this has been motivated by a true public spirit; they have asked for nothing in return.
Whatever your training level, you can always improve by working with outside agencies. Whether they are fellow fire departments, agencies from other disciplines, the military or civilian entities, you can do nothing but gain by working with people who can broaden your horizons, open doors for you and build major bonds that can become important assets during major (and minor) incidents.
RUEL DOUVILLIER is a captain in the New Orleans, LA, Fire Department, where he has served for 11 years, most of it with Special Operations. He also is the task force leader of Southeast Louisiana Task Force 1 (SELA TF-1), a Type III urban search and rescue (USAR) team. Douvillier served for 20 years in the U.S. Army as a medic, infantryman and paratrooper and five years as a paramedic with New Orleans Emergency Medical Services.