Rescue Squad Takes on Fire Duty

March 3, 2010
In this era of tightening budgets, consolidation of services and, as part of the never-ending quest to provide the 911 caller with the quickest, most effective service possible, we frequently hear or read about fire departments that assume responsibility for all or part of the EMS delivery system.

In this era of tightening budgets, consolidation of services and, as part of the never-ending quest to provide the 911 caller with the quickest, most effective service possible, we frequently hear or read about fire departments that assume responsibility for all or part of the EMS delivery system.

However, can you remember ever hearing or reading about an EMS organization that takes on fire suppression as an added responsibility? That is exactly what happened in June 2008, when the Millville, NJ, Rescue Squad signed a contract to provide all emergency services, including on-track fire suppression, at the newly opened New Jersey Motorsports Race Track.

The squad was organized as a fully volunteer entity on Dec. 18, 1958, as part of the Nabb Leslie American Legion Post in Millville, a city of about 25,000 in the southern part of the state. By the late 1980s, increased demands for service in conjunction with changes in service-delivery models prompted the dissolution of the association with the American Legion and the transition into the current Millville Rescue Squad. To keep pace with ever-increasing demands for service, which by then were in excess of 4,000 emergency responses per year, the first six full-time employees were hired in November 1995, commencing the transition of the organization into a combination volunteer/career service. John Redden was soon appointed as full-time chief and shortly after CEO, positions he continues to hold today.

Over the past 14-plus years, the Millville Rescue Squad has evolved into a large corporation comprised of three divisions: the Millville Rescue Squad, which provides 911 emergency medical services to Millville and parts of several surrounding townships; Medical Response Services, which provides non-emergency patient transport and para-transit services to numerous local health-care facilities, agencies and organizations; and the recently formed Motorsports Rescue Specialists, which provides all on-track emergency services at the race track. It currently has more than 200 full- and part-time employees staffing more than 50 emergency and non-emergency vehicles around the clock.

The seeds for the current emergency services delivery system were originally sown about five years ago, when the concept of a new world-class race track was first proposed for a large tract of land near Millville Airport. Redden was asked to join what was known as the Green Flag Committee, a group of local business, community and civic leaders who were to be advocates for development of the race track project. As a member of the Green Flag Committee, Redden became involved in the requirements for track safety and emergency response, but originally was only going to provide emergency medical services. As more track safety and response issues were directed toward him, and after consultation with the Millville Fire Department, which will still handle any structural or significant fire incidents off the track, he decided to develop a proposal to provide all on-track safety and emergency response needs. He then formed Motorsports Rescue Specialists (MRS) as a division of the Millville Rescue Squad. Track officials accepted this proposal and MRS was awarded a five-year contract.

Once the contract was signed, MRS established a budget of $750,000 for the purchase of necessary vehicles and equipment. Numerous other established race tracks were contacted and several were visited to learn what worked and didn't work for them and to evaluate the tools and equipment that they were using. As a result of this research, MRS purchased four Ford F-350 crew-cab pickup trucks that were converted into fire-rescue quick-response units referred to as MERVs (multi-purpose emergency response vehicles), four ambulances, one medium-duty wrecker, one light-duty wrecker, one roll back, one pickup truck and three golf carts. The MERVs carry fire suppression equipment, extrication tools and equipment, and basic absorbent material for hydrocarbon spills as well as having "flat-tow" capabilities.

While visiting other race tracks to evaluate their equipment and learn about their on-track emergency procedures, MRS personnel learned that most race cars are stripped of almost any combustible materials and as such there is very little that will burn in the car other than the fuel that is being carried and engine lubricants, fluids wiring, hoses and belts. Based upon this information, MRS selected Cold Fire as its fire suppression agent of choice. They based this decision on three factors: Cold Fire removes the source of fuel, it has excellent cooling properties and it changes the molecular structure of the fuel to prevent re-ignition. Each MERV carries two 2½-gallon Cold Fire extinguishers along with five gallons of Cold Fire concentrate and an eductor that can be used in conjunction with the vehicle's booster tank water to produce a larger quantity of product should it be needed for a more significant fire or spill.

As soon as the contract was finalized, Redden started to develop a campaign to recruit qualified personnel to staff the many additional positions that would need to be filled. This project was abandoned almost as quickly as it commenced as word quickly spread throughout the fire and EMS communities in southern New Jersey and as far as Philadelphia, PA, more than 40 miles away. MRS was deluged with applications from prospective candidates, several hundred in all. The applicants included many experienced career and volunteer firefighters from area fire departments as well as numerous career and volunteer EMS personnel. From this applicant pool, an initial group of approximately 60 personnel was selected.

All personnel who serve as motorsports rescue technicians (MRT) are required to complete a minimum of 30 hours of specialized training to be certified. The initial basic training was primarily developed and delivered by MRS's in-house training academy and consisted of general track safety, fire suppression, vehicle extrication techniques, motorcycle retrieval, and towing and wrecker operations. Advanced training was conducted by personnel from the Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC. Race track safety regulations are found in the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code and are enforced on site by the New Jersey State Police. While EMT certification is preferred for all personnel, it is mandatory only for those assigned to ambulance duty.

While many of the MRTs are part-time employees, some moonlighting from other career emergency services jobs, crews chiefs at the track must be full-time employees of MRS. In addition to certification as an MRT, each must be an EMT, have proven leadership qualities and have practical racetrack experience gained from work with emergency crews at other tracks during training trips. Many of the crew chiefs spent considerable time working at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Danville, VA, and Summit Point Motorsports Park in Charles Town, WV. Emergency crews from VIR and Summit Point were in Millville for the first several events to provide support for their new colleagues.

Any time there are race vehicles on the track, including for driver training, there must be an emergency response crew with a minimum of five personnel in position on the perimeter of the track. At minimum staffing, two MRTs are assigned to a MERV, one to a wrecker with two EMTs on the ambulance. Personnel assigned to the MERV and ambulance must be in their vehicles at pre-determined staging locations on the track. Personnel staffing the MERV must have all protective equipment on while in the vehicle. The MERV crew responds first to all reported incidents on the track. These two personnel make a quick size-up and situation assessment, then request any additional resources required. The benchmark response time that MRS uses is 90 seconds for the MERV to respond to the incident and for the on-board MRTs to make contact with the driver. In incidents involving fire, the goal is to protect the driver and attempt to extinguish the fire within seconds of arrival on location.

With speeds on the racetrack reaching up to 170 mph, on-track safety is always vitally important. At those speeds, one millisecond of inattentiveness can be deadly. Once an incident is reported on the track, the MERV is permitted to respond onto the track only once it is given clearance by the control tower. If the location of the incident would make response quicker by traveling against the race direction, the control tower issues an order for all cars to immediately pull to the side of the course and stop. Once it is confirmed that all vehicles are stopped, the MERV is authorized to respond against race direction.

As currently configured, the raceway includes 1.9-mile and 2.25-mile road courses as well as a 1.1-mile go-cart track. The minimum staffing and equipment requirements described above are doubled if there are cars on both road tracks at the same time. For large events, more than 25,000 people can be expected to be on site. These events can require up to 35 personnel to staff all necessary positions and equipment since multiple MERVs, ambulances and wreckers will likely be stationed on each track. Additional ambulances may be subcontracted from surrounding communities as well as local hospital-based paramedics. A doctor will also be on duty in a small on-site medical building.

The first race was held at the track on July 5, 2008. The first major all-weekend event was held in mid-August with a two-day crowd estimated in excess of 30,000 and numerous types and classes of races taking place on both tracks. In addition to the usual spectator medical emergencies, the MRTs responded to numerous on-track incidents, including at least one high-speed collision with the perimeter wall and several fuel leaks. During the inaugural season, the MRTs handled a few minor fire incidents such as smoke in the cockpit of a race car, smoke coming from the engine compartment and electrical shorts, but were not tested with a significant fire.

In 2009, there were two more significant fire incidents, one a Ferrari racecar with a heavily involved engine compartment and one a fully involved motorcycle. Both of these incidents required the use of the MERV's on-board fire extinguishing capabilities through a line rather than just the use of fire extinguishers.

Redden hopes to continue positive development of the motorsports rescue technicians, and Motorsports Rescue Specialists as a whole, through additional training and increased levels of experience they will gain by continued protection of the race track.

PETER J. FINLEY JR., CFO, a 30-year veteran of the fire and emergency services, recently retired as chief of the Winslow Township, NJ, Fire Department. Prior to that, he served for more than 20 years with the Vineland, NJ, Fire Department, including 4½ years as chief of department, and six years with the Fairfax County, VA, Fire and Rescue Department. Finley has an associate's degree in fire control technology from Atlantic Community College and a bachelor's degree in fire science/administration from the University of Maryland. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program, where he received an Outstanding Research Award in 2002. He has earned numerous professional certifications and recently achieved designation as a Chief Fire Officer. Finley is president of the New Jersey Career Fire Chief's Association and an adjunct instructor in the Fire Science Program at Camden County College.

JOHN W. CARR is a retired fire captain with 27 years of service in the Vineland Fire Department, where he was a platoon commander for 18 years. He also was the city's emergency management coordinator. Carr holds an associate's degree in fire science from Atlantic Community College and studied public administration at Rowan University. He has completed several courses from the New York Institute of Photography and is now a fire photographer for many of the departments in Cumberland County, NJ, and the County Fire and Rescue Training Academy.

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