West Tisbury to the rescue

West Tisbury Rescue Captain Kenny Mastromonaco hefts a hydraulic spreader, one of the rescue tools used to free a passenger from an automotive wreck early on the morning of July 15. In the background is Engine 721, the department's rescue truck. — Rich Saltzberg

The serious State Road car accident that occurred early on July 15 — a crash so violent it required metal to be judiciously cut and bent to extract a pinned passenger — underscored the utility of the West Tisbury Fire Department’s rescue team.

“West Tisbury Rescue is composed of firefighters and fire officers from all of West Tisbury’s fire trucks,” Lieut. Brynn Schaffner told The Times. The team responds to any calls that fall outside normal fire dispatches. These calls often necessitate some type of extraction, such as from car accident or plane crash wreckage, or as Lieut. Schaffner notes, horses from wells, pools, and ponds, too. West Tisbury Rescue also assists EMS when removal of a patient from a house proves difficult. The West Tisbury Dive team and Ice Rescue Team are components of West Tisbury Rescue.

West Tisbury Rescue members are required to learn specialized skills as well as pass all the firefighting classes requisite for West Tisbury firefighters, Lieut. Schaffner said. These skills include how to use rescue tools, rescue jacks, and airbags that are employed in the lifting and stabilization of vehicles. Rescue members are also trained in safety protocols inherent to the dangerous vehicular scenes they encounter. In addition to understanding properties of fluids and the procedures for dealing with them, knowledge of where certain compressed pistons are located on cars — such as those that keep a hatchback door open — and how to steer clear of them is essential, according to Lieut. Schaffner, who said that when they blow, they can shoot a thin piston right through a person.

The location of airbags is also important knowledge for rescue members, as is how to disarm them if they haven’t deployed yet, Lieut. Schaffner said. West Tisbury Rescue Captain Kenny Mastromonaco said airbags are a far greater threat than gas tanks. The team very seldom discovers a ruptured gas tank. He recalls one in 33 years, he said.  

Knowing the location of batteries, seat belt tensioners, and disconnect switches is also important for team members, Lieut. Schaffner said, as is the location of high-voltage lines in electric or hybrid vehicles.

When West Tisbury Rescue successfully extricated a passenger from the wreckage of a single car accident on State Road early on the morning of July 15, it employed hydraulic rescue tools: a cutter and a spreader. Rescue members Evelyn Medeiros, Michael O’Hara, Brynn Schaffner, Manual Estrella III, Anthony Cordray, Louis De Geofroy, Alex Dorr, Kenny Mastromonaco, Eric Medeiros, Richard Hull, and Mike Fontes responded to that accident. Likely no small part of their success stemmed from their routine practice on various donated vehicles behind their station on Edgartown–West Tisbury Road. The practice vehicles, which they sometimes stage with crash dummies, help to hone their skills in the art of gingerly dismantlement. Capt. Mastromonaco said trapped accident victims are sensitive to every vibration that runs through a vehicle’s metal. This requires exceptional delicacy in what is otherwise heavy-duty work. Grinding tools won’t do, he said. The rescue tools the team uses spread or cut metal with a bit more than clock-hand swiftness. This lessens the intensity of tremors traveling to the victim.

The team, like the fire department, responds at any hour of the day. And while it fields a full complement of members, it, like the overall fire department, is in need of new recruits.

“The fire department is also lacking in new firefighters,” Lieut. Brynn said. “We aren’t seeing as many new, younger volunteers joining up anymore. And the ones that are there are starting to age out. So we are always looking for new recruits to apply. It is a commitment, though, we all have to be trained to the same standard as full-time paid firefighters. The fire doesn’t care if we are volunteer. There is a lot of time that goes into training each year. And it can be a burden on anyone who joins. But it is also very rewarding once you get into it for a little while.”

Anyone interested in joining can stop in any Sunday around 10 am and speak to the chief at the fire station at 452 State Road, across from Conroy’s.

“There are so many jobs to do on the fire department,” Lieut. Brynn added; “even if you aren’t willing to go into a burning house, or hate heights, there are many other jobs on the department that don’t require that.”