Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cold Water Rescue

Training was not too tasking last night. Mostly what we're focusing on right now is knots and ropes. This should have worked out well for me as I'm an avid amateur rock climber, but it turns out that tying knots in fire gloves while under pressure is just a bit different from tying knots on a cool breezy day at the base of a rock face. I'll get there, though.

One of the more interesting things we got to play with was the cold water rescue suit. This is the piece of equipment that a firefighter dons when they need to go pull somebody up who has fallen through an iced over body of water. It's this big red piece of rubber that fits your body like a glove, stretching to fit all the way over your head, reminding me of a kid's onesie with a hood, entirely made out of 1-inch-thick-waterproof-thermal-insulating-material. Attached to the back is a large D-ring that a rescue rope is tied to so you are tethered to shore by your crewmates who are manning the rope, and in your pocket you carry an extension of that rope with a carabiner at the end to clip around your patient before pulling them out.

Once you're in, you have to start moving over the ice so that your weight is as spread out as possible, otherwise you'll just break through the ice in another spot, making it hard to get to the victim. In essence, they've found one of the better ways to do this is to lay flat on your side gripping your tether over your head and just to roll out to your victim like a bakers rolling pin. We practiced this in a grassy area, rolling out to rescue each other from the middle of a field, and it's a bizarre feeling. The suit holds air well, so as you roll from one side to the other, the pressure can change in the area around your head causing your ears to pop; your fingers don't move right because of the thickness of the material. I can only imagine how much tougher this would be on a cold day, moving over slippery ice, into a freezing hole in the center, all under the pressure of getting to a person who only will last mere minutes in that sort of environment.

Another interesting fact: we are taught a hand signal that means "I need help!". Sticking one arm straight up in the air means that you are in trouble and require assistance. My thought is, how is anybody going to help you? There's only one suit on the truck. You'd at least have to wait until the next due engine arrived for anyone else to get out there and lend a hand.

Firefighting is not always about fire, but it sure does seem to involve a lot of running straight into places most people should never go and doing things most people would be crazy to attempt.

What a cool job.

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