Oak Bluffs rescue team trains with new gear
About 20 members of the Oak Bluffs Fire Department's rescue team spent the afternoon of June 29 training and practicing with the town's newly purchased $45,000 Holmatro system of hydraulic and air rescue tools.
Oak Bluffs voters approved an article at town meeting in April to transfer funds from the ambulance reserve fund to replace the town's 30-year-old Hurst "Jaws of Life" trademarked rescue tool system.
"The money came from the ambulance revolving fund, which is a fund that's generated from revenues from our ambulance transports," explained Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Gilbert (Pete) Forend. "No money comes out of taxation for it, but expenditures from the fund do have to be approved on town meeting floor."
The rescue team trained for almost four hours last Sunday, starting at the Oak Bluffs fire station. "We have a 20-man team, 10 in the rescue company and then another 10 within the department, mostly from Engine Company 2, that would actually do this," Chief Forend explained. They received certification for their training from Holmatro.
"They're all very dedicated guys, to come out and train on a Sunday instead of going to the beach - now I've got to smooth it over with their wives," the chief said with a laugh.
Practice with the new equipment at the Oak Bluffs transfer station included cutting into two cars and removing their roofs and doors. "The newer tools are so much faster and so much lighter, and they have a lot more working force than the old ones," said Chief Forend. "You might find it hard to believe, but the newer cars actually have more hardened steel in them than the older ones in certain areas, and the old cutters weren't able to cut some of them. The new cutters are a lot stronger."
Airbags included with the new system can be slid under a car and inflated to lift it. "If somebody was trapped under a car, you could lift it right off," the chief said. "We did have airbags before, but these are a little bit better and lift higher, so we'll use them in conjunction with the old ones." The fire department also will keep and use the old Jaws of Life as a backup, he added.
Chief Forend started to look into replacing the fire department's rescue tool equipment after his appointment as chief last July. After doing "a lot of shopping around," Captain Forend said he left the final decision up to Assistant Chief Bruce O'Donnell, who had served as the rescue company's captain for a long time, and Capt. Tony White, who currently heads the rescue company.
Photo by Joe Rogers
A salesman brought demo tools to Oak Bluffs for some preliminary training with the rescue crew to make sure the equipment was the kind they wanted. They found the Holmatro equipment superior to the Hurst, Chief Forend said.
The new system includes spreaders, cutters, rams, airbag systems, and stabilizer jacks.
"We got pretty much everything we figured we'd need," the chief said. "Some of the tools are geared just for use in cars, but many are multi-use. For example, in addition to use in all auto extrication, the jacks can be used in house fires if we have a weak ceiling, and to shore up trenches if we have a trench collapse." A big factor in his department's decision to go with the Holmatro system was that Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah use the same brand, Chief Forend said. Edgartown still uses a Hurst "Jaws of Life."
"We're trying to mirror a lot of the things we do the same, as far as our training," the chief pointed out. "If we're trained on the same equipment and go to another town to provide mutual aid to them, we can grab a hold of their stuff, they can grab a hold of ours, and we're all working with the same system."
Oak Bluffs has mutual aid agreements with Tisbury and Edgartown. "Those are just basically for structure fires," Chief Forend said. "But the chiefs in either town will call us out as needed for anything. For example, for a multiple car accident, I'm sure they would call us, as I would them."
The arrangement has proven valuable, he added, because towns rely on volunteer fire fighters and it can be difficult to round up enough of them during the day when they are at work. "So we do rely on the other towns, and we plan on trying to do a lot more things together and alike," the chief said.
In answer to the question of why each Island town should have its own rescue tool system, Chief Forend said response time is the key factor. "It's the golden hour - you have to get somebody out of a car, in the hospital, in the critical care unit within an hour," he explained. "That's pretty much why all the towns have their own systems, simply because the time is very critical when you use the tools." Multiple rescue tool systems also are a plus when more than one town's rescue personnel must respond to an emergency, Chief Forend added.