Island firefighters go to the trenches for rescue training

Tisbury Firefighter Andrew Dickson placed a pneumatic strut against support beams to shore up the trench walls. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Thirteen Island firefighters, members of the Dukes County regional technical rescue team, participated in an intensive 24-hour trench rescue training course last weekend off High Point Lane in Tisbury.

The goal of the training is to prepare the team to be able to immediately respond in the event of an accident, for example at a construction site or a beach.

The Martha’s Vineyard team is one of several regional teams the Mass Southeast Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (SRAC) set up in eastern Massachusetts. They have received technical rescue equipment and specialized training through a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

Mark McCabe, a full-time Plymouth firefighter and part-time instructor for the Massachusetts State Fire Fighting Academy, accompanied by five instructors, trained Island firefighters from several town departments over four days, starting last Thursday night and ending Sunday.

In preparation, Tisbury fire lieutenant Troy Maciel of Maciel and Sons Excavation dug three types of trenches, six to eight feet deep, in an area off High Point Lane.

“Then the instructors created a scenario within each trench and taught the firefighters different techniques to accomplish the goal of rescue,” Tisbury fire chief John Schilling told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday.

The last one, a T-trench, was the most difficult because it had five sides to secure. In addition to securing the trench, the firefighters had to monitor air quality in the trench and establish a work zone around it. A partially buried mannequin at the bottom of the trench was used to simulate the victim in a trench collapse.

Chief Schilling said the SRAC worked on securing the grant for the technical rescue team with the Dukes County Fire Chiefs Association for about three years.

“We’re very proud of being part of this regional effort, and we’re especially proud of the commitment the firefighters have made to go through this extensive training and put in these extra hours,” he said. “They’ve given up a lot of weekends to date. I can’t say enough about their willingness to do this, to go above and beyond.”

In addition to the trench training, the grant funded 48 hours of rope rescue and 20 hours of confined space rescue techniques for the Dukes County team, and a 24-foot trailer and equipment worth $100,000, Chief Schilling said.

The trailer includes all the ropes, harnesses, and hardware for a rope rescue, as well as construction equipment and heavy-duty hand tools that would be needed in the event of a structural collapse or trench rescue. There are generators, lighting, air quality meters, welding equipment, and more. The grant also provided an hourly stipend for the volunteer firefighters to take the training courses.

“No one on the Island to date has had any equipment out here or training to respond to these types of emergencies,” Chief Schilling said. “We’re excited to have both now. No individual department could have accomplished this on its own without the grant, nor is it something any one department could justify, with all of the budget constraints our towns face. To handle this on a regional basis, that’s the way to make it work out here economically.”