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LORDS VALLEY - To ready themselves for the possibilities, over 50 volunteer firefighters spent a recent weekend refining their understanding and skills relative to emergency rescue situations.

During the annual Junior Weekend at the Pike County Training Center, a handful of certified first responders shared their knowledge with the younger volunteers who are likely new to the industry or are too young yet, to partake in specific aspects of the operation such as actually fighting fires.

One day the young volunteers spent learning about the many safety initiatives in the classroom, later going on to consider the water resources available in different settings since a majority of the residences in the region do not have fire hydrants and so, the firefighters are dependent on tankers, portable pools or natural water sources.

Managing the hoses in itself is a lesson, as the juniors practiced wrapping hoses back onto trucks by working with a hose bed. But, before wrapping the hose, they had to walk the line, starting at a higher point to empty the water from the hose before repacking it. If the hose still had water in it, a volunteer firefighter from the Forest Fire Department and a facilitator at the center, Michelle Manzione explained that the hose wouldn’t fit back on the truck and the possible air bubbles could be problematic.

Another component was “laddering.” Manzione explained that when the ladder company arrives at a scene, ground ladders are placed on each side of a building at as many openings as possible, to offer the firefighters more options to escape if necessary.

The juniors also practiced possible scenarios, such as a basement fire and hydro venting that creates a vent out of a window to remove smoke and heat from a room, by spraying water out an open window. The open stream of water, Manzione said creates a fog pattern that pushes smoke out and gives visibility to a room. The firefighters, however, must be attentive before hydro venting. In case there is a fire elsewhere within the structure, they must consider the possibility of introducing oxygen to the fire.

Using specific irons, the juniors practiced making their way into buildings by forcing doors open as part of “forcible entry.” Once the door is open, Manzione explained that a search team will enter the scene and do a primary search for victims.

To enter a building through a window, Manzione said there are a few techniques that depend on if they are midair or at ground level. The firefighter can walk themselves into the window on their hands by leaning forward and crawling with their hands and then, their feet will drop from the windowsill. Or, they could hug the windowsill and then tuck and roll into the building. While the first responder may choose either, Manzione noted that they are always wearing an air pack, so that may influence their entry technique because they want to land on their side and be attentive to potential items in the room, such as furniture. As well, before they continue into the building, the firefighter must use a tool to “sound the floor” to ensure the floor is solid.

The juniors also practiced breaking thermal layers, which are accumulations of gases at the ceilings. The layers are problematic because they may cause a flashover, where everything ignites simultaneously and creates a situation where few firefighters survive. Whenever firefighters go into a fire, Manzione said they spray the ceiling to “disrupt the layering.”

A junior firefighter from Maple Wood, 16-year-old Esmeralda Mendez has been with her department for six months. Because she thought firefighters were “cool,” Mendez said she was inspired to become a volunteer. During her first junior weekend, Mendez said she learned a lot and had fun because of the “excitement” of everything. That, Manzione added is because of the adrenaline that occurs as they train and later practice real-life scenarios.

For Mendez, working on her timing was the greatest challenge she encountered during the weekend, as she learned speed is necessary, but so too is being cautious and thorough. The hose was more powerful then Mendez imagined, but she was able to manage it. Practicing the forcible entry was Mendez’s favorite part because of the power needed to open a door, she said.

Firefighting aside, the juniors also learned First Aid and how to check a person’s vitals - blood pressure, respiration and pulse by practicing on one another. The Training Operations Manager at the Center, Jordan Wisniewski explained that to practice mobilization the juniors used cervical collars and how to roll a person onto a backboard since a person may have various pains.

An EMT with the Westfall Fire Department Isaac Decker worked with the juniors for the advanced life support unit. The Juniors, Decker said responded well to what he spoke about, starting with immobilization for basic level emergency responders.

A junior firefighter with the Hawley Fire Department, 15-year-old Hunter Mead was at his second junior weekend because “it’s fun” he said. He explained that, learning everything there is to know makes it “fun.” While he was familiar with a lot of the training already, the challenge was the “hard labor” of the weekend. He explained that, the juniors spent a lot of time on their knees crawling and although there are kneepads, it’s still a long time to be on one’s knees. All components of first responding Mead enjoys, whether it be climbing the ladder or entering a building, in part because the fire industry is in his blood, following in his father’s steps as he is the chief of the Hawley Fire Department. Of the various components of firefighting, Mead said managing the hose may be the most challenging because of the hose’s power when charged. It is the truck part though, that Mead enjoys because those on the truck enter the buildings first and so, while it may be “scary” it is also “fun” since the “blood is flowing.”

After their many hours of training, the juniors received a certificate signifying their completion of the weekend. Before the training concluded, they practiced a real scenario that Manzione said gave them a “taste” of what they may encounter.
For more information visit https://www.pikepa.org/trainingcenter.html or their Facebook page; call 570-775-1960.