Fire Training

By: Nichole Vrsansky
By: Nichole Vrsansky

Last year in the United States, 107 firefighters died in the line of duty. Illinois ranks third highest on that list with five fatalities in 2004.

While the Rockford Fire Department hasn't had an on-duty death in nearly 80 years, the department has stepped up efforts in training for these life-threatening situations.

"This is some of the most valuable training they'll ever have," says Lt. John Brazones.

Rockford firefighter recruits are learning to save their own lives.

"All our training since the beginning of fire departments was to get civilians out. We never thought about getting ourselves out," says Brazones.

But not anymore. Firefighters nationwide now train in a program called "Saving Our Own."

In Rockford a simulator sets up a scenario similar to an incident that happened in Denver. A firefighter became trapped in a narrow hallway. Others in his company were able to find him, but couldn't get him out; that firefighter died.

"We've tried to learn from that lesson. We don't want it to happen here," says Capt. Dan Zaccard.

But if it does, trainees will be prepared. This is what they would do: for trapped victim who would be unconscious, a rope is placed around their hands and they're pulled through the upper floor.

For a conscious victim, "We lowered down a strap; you stood on it and you hold on and they pull you up," explains Brazones.

Recruits can also use the simulator to train on second floor rescues, window rescues, stair rescues, practicing any situation that could become life-threatening:

"Once a firefighter goes down in an operation, things really go wrong. We don't want that to happen, but if it does we want to be prepared," says Zaccard.

Fire Chief Bill Robertson says 92-year-old Harry Espenshield was instrumental in allowing this drill to happen Thursday. He donated $3,000 to build the simulator. He did ask for one thing in return: to eat lunch with the recruits.


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