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Emergency crews get in the trenches for training

April 19, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --It was all fake, but they did their best to make it seem real.

This weekend, firefighters and emergency services crews from around the region learned from experts how to rescue victims from collapsed trenches, vehicles and high places during the RESA 8-sponsored Eastern Panhandle Training Weekend.

Regional Education Services Agency (RESA) brought the training to the Panhandle through its Public Service Training Program. The agency provides its own paid, trained employees to lead the exercises, said David Weller, assistant coordinator for the training program.

Each year, about 7,000 participants receive training in the eight Eastern Panhandle counties -- Morgan, Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire, Grant, Mineral, Hardy and Pendleton -- and the contiguous four states, said David Plume, training program coordinator.

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Part-time RESA employees conduct the training sessions.

Besides firefighters and EMS crews, RESA also trains those who work in law enforcement and industry.

This weekend, two days of rope training were conducted at the Martinsburg Fire Department on Raleigh Street, vehicle rescue training was performed at Ernie's Salvage Yard and trench rescue training was completed at a Ryan Homes construction site on Prentiss Point Parkway off W.Va. 9 south of Martinsburg.

The trench training was led by Martinsburg firefighters and brothers Jason and Greg Hoover, both of whom are on RESA's paid part-time training staff.

"They're two of the best instructors in the state," Weller said.

Trenches 8 feet deep or deeper were dug with donated heavy earth-moving equipment, Greg Hoover said.

In the weekend scenario, two workers were repairing a broken water line when the walls of the trench they were working in collapsed. One worker was completely covered by the dirt, while his partner was only partially buried.

Dummies were used in the training.

The partially buried "victim" was pulled out and taken to the hospital.

It took 57 minutes from the time the call came in for crews to reach the site and save the partially buried worker, Weller said. The buried worker was presumed dead. Hoover said a person buried like that could not survive for more than five or six minutes.

Before digging out the body of the second "victim," rescuers had to strengthen the walls of the trench. Students used equipment designed for the task. That included strong ventilation fans to rid the site of any dangerous gases and rugged panels that were pushed to the edges of the trench by adjustable air struts to stabilize the remaining walls.

"There are many unstable areas in this type of trench," Hoover said. "Every situation is different."

He said there were 14 students from five counties at the Prentiss Point site.

Marshal Younker of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., another RESA employee, led the auto-extraction exercises at the auto salvage yard. About 20 students participated.

Ed Sankbeil, assistant chief of the fire department at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, led the rope training, Weller said.

Everything that could be simulated was, down to Jeff Heavner of the Slanesville, W.Va., Fire and Rescue Department, who posed as an uncooperative public information officer charged with dealing with the press at a catastrophe.

Orange cones were set up to keep the press at bay, and Heavner did his best to stonewall an area news reporter who volunteered for the role during the weekend training event.

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