SFRD completes rescue exercise at water facility
The 500,000-gallon water tank was empty, the accident “victim” was actually a dummy and the often casual demeanor of the firefighters at the scene indicated a good-natured camaraderie amongst its members.
However, the importance of engaging in the semi-annual exercise at the Donax Water Reclamation Facility was made fully clear in the statement of training officer Tim Barrett.
“We do these drills so that when the time comes, we’ll be ready for the real thing,” he said.
On Tuesday morning, five members of the Sanibel Fire Rescue District arrived at the Donax Street complex to take part in a training exercise utilizing WWTP Tank #1.
“In this scenario, a victim has fallen 30 feet to the floor of the tank,” Barrett explained. “We’re going to have one of our men repel into the tank, secure the victim, and hoist both of them out of the tank safely.”
Atop the gigantic empty tank, firefighters Brian Howell and Bob Chewning geared up with repelling equipment. Capt. Steve Johnson oversaw the exercise, which was being simultaneously evaluated by Barrett, while fellow fireman Chris Jackson split his time between operating the SRFD ladder truck and assisting with the rescue operation at the top of the tank.
At the bottom of the black, cavernous retention tank, the “victim” – the district’s official “volunteer” at every training exercise – lay sprawled against a side wall. Howell was slowly lowered into the tank, checked the victim’s vital signs, secured it into the rescue cage, and gave the “all clear” signal to his fellow firefighters that they could begin pulling the victim up and out of the tank.
According to Barrett, the group employed a “4-to-1” system – four men doing the hoisting and anchoring while a single man repelled into the tank – during the drill.
“We have to keep practicing like this,” said Jackson. “During these drills, there’s a lot more communication that goes on because we’re talking back and forth. But when you’re actually doing it, we’re all so focused on doing the job right we hardly talk at all.”
Once Howell was safely removed from the tank and began removing the series of gears and harnesses he was suited up with, the exercise was concluded and dubbed a complete success.
“I’ve done this many times before,” said Howell, an eight-year member of the SFRD. “But there’s always something different – no two scenarios are alike. When we prepare for the unexpected, we won’t be taken by surprise when the real thing happens.”