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Rehab 255 comes to the rescue of firefighters

New unit has six commercial microwave ovens, a refrigerator and freezer, two coffeemakers and an electric bottle cooler

February 18, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Members of the Washington County Emergency Rehab unit with their new rehab unit Rehab 255. From left are: Terry Smith assistant chief, William King, deputy chief, Dixie Pierce EMS lieutenant, and Bryan Stallings, chief. Rehab 255 was put into service Sunday, January 16.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Twenty years ago, determining whether a firefighter might need food and drink while battling a blaze generating temperatures up to 1,000 degrees was usually an afterthought, fire officials said.

Firefighters would sometimes get relief in the form of a coffee or food wagon, but the care for fire crews was not close to what it is today, fire officials said.

When a so-called "working structure fire" is dispatched these days, so is Rehab 255, a unit that fills a variety of needs for firefighters, from periodic medical checkups at a fire scene to providing cooling chairs in stifling heat.

Washington County's fire rehab services received a boost when a $215,000 vehicle was put into service on Jan. 16.

The new Rehab 255 unit offers numerous improvements over a recreational vehicle that was used previously, officials said.

Relief services for firefighters in the county date back to the 1970s when a "coffee wagon" used to arrive at fire scenes, said William King, deputy chief of Rehab 255.

In 1985, a modified bread truck was used to deliver hot dogs and coffee to firefighters, King said. After the bread truck started falling apart, a food service vehicle was obtained in 1990 from Howard County, Md., King said.

Then, a recreational vehicle was purchased for the rehab unit, and that was used for 16 years, King said.

Driving the RV through fields and other terrain to reach fire scenes finally put enough wear and tear on the unit that it had to be replaced, said Rehab 255 officials, who at one time responded to about 30 calls a year.

"Now we're running 70 to 80 calls a year," said Terry Smith, assistant chief of Rehab 255.

In August 2008, planning began for the new rehab unit.

The vehicle, built by Krammes Kustom Body in St. Clair, Pa., features six commercial microwave ovens, a commercial-grade refrigerator and freezer, two commercial-grade coffeemakers and an electric bottle cooler, King said.

There are also "misting fans" to help cool firefighters, and a toilet that is accessed from the outside of the truck.

Helping firefighters cope with intense conditions at emergency scenes has come a long way, Rehab 255 officials said.

Now the amount of time firefighters spend under adverse conditions is controlled, King said. Depending on the conditions, a firefighter might only be allowed to work for a certain period before being checked out by medical crews, King said.

"Basically, the old school (of thought) was push, push, push until I drop," King.

Rehab 255, which is stationed at the Co. 25 station on York Road, was funded in part by $100,000 that came from the Washington County Commissioners, King said.

The rest of the money came from the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, some local fire departments, local businesses and local organizations, officials said.

Other local fire departments helped with in-kind contributions and equipment, officials said.

Rehab 255 also can be made available to police officers working at scenes for extended periods, said Bryan Stallings, the Rehab 255 chief.

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