Volunteer fire crew fired up
Key Largo team places third at competition

By Kevin Wadlow Senior Staff Writer kwadlow@keynoter.com

A Key Largo firefighter squad ranked among the best at a regional accident-rescue competition, despite being the eventís only all-volunteer unit.

Key Largoís entry at the multi-state Southeast Extrication Challenge took third place in a 16-team field.

"Not bad for a bunch of volunteers," said Key Largo Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Sergio Garcia.

"All these other teams get paid to train. Our guys only start training after they finish a day of work."

The Challenge, held May 21 to 25 in Palm Beach County, consists of two mock vehicle-accident scenarios, said Deputy Chief Rick Fernandez, the team leader.

Teams work to free a trapped accident victim as rapidly as possible while ensuring the patientís health. Judges rate teams on five factors: Command and control, safety, equipment knowledge, speed and patient treatment.

Key Largoís team took second place in the "Limited" scenario, where teams are limited to using only hand tools.

In the "Unlimited" test, where hydraulic gear such as the Jaws of Life can be used, Key Largo took fourth place.

Points from the combined events gave the Upper Keys unit third place overall, trailing only veteran teams from Seminole and Tallahassee.

Key Largo finished ahead of professional rescue units from West Palm Beach, Gainesville, Pembroke Pines, Clearwater and Orange County, among others.

Joining Fernandez on this yearís local entry were Lt. James Griffeth and firefighters Manny Leon, Clint Jones, Brian King and Frank Conklin.

All expenses for the trip were taken from community contributions, not county tax funding, Garcia noted.

"That experience helps save lives on the streets of our community and thatís priceless," said Fernandez. "The cost of the event is nothing compared to the benefits brought back by team members, knowledge and experience they share with fellow firefighters from all over Monroe County