Several years ago, my department recognized the need for this training but funding and resources were always a set-back. With so many severe accidents happening throughout our county we felt the constant pressure to organize some type of training. Anderson County covers a large portion of Interstate 85 and there are several large scale accidents each year that continue to claim lives and challenge responders. With so many other busy roadways there was an identifiable need for large vehicle and school bus extrication training.
Our state academy currently offers a 16 hour Basic Auto Extrication course that provides a foundation for future training. Each year, during the Southeastern Fire School weekend, there is a 14 hour Advanced Auto Extrication course offered that provides responders with excellent stabilization and rescue scenarios. While these two courses are great it is simply not enough.
Currently, our state academy does not offer large vehicle or bus extrication in the rescue curriculum. More often than not, our local firefighters are traveling out of state or some distance to receive advanced and large vehicle extrication training. We wanted to change this pattern and did so by applying for and receiving an AFG (Assistance to Firefighters Grant) FEMA Grant to provide our members and others with basic, advanced, and large vehicle/school bus extrication training.
When gathering information for the grant we made every effort to research the many training providers out there and find the one to best fit the needs of our department.
When determining a dollar amount to request for the grant, allow for extra expenses such as instructor costs, fuel and mileage, student textbooks, meals during class, tow operator fees, etc. These expenses can add up quickly, so take extra time when you are requesting quotes and figuring dollar amounts.
Our grant narrative broke down the training from awareness, operations to technician level. One addition in our narrative was adding that all training would meet or exceed NFPA 1670 specifications. If NFPA compliance is important to your agency make sure you review the guideline and ask if your training provider follows it. It was also worth mentioning that this type of training had not been offered in our area in over 15 years and would be open to responders throughout the county to increase interoperability on mutual aid calls.
After receipt of the grant we determined who would supply the training. There are many top notch extrication providers out there providing emergency personnel with many avenues to gain the essential knowledge.
We chose the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads, or TARS, to deliver our basic and advanced level vehicle extrication courses. These courses were broken down into two 24 hour programs and provided challenging scenarios for our members.
Billy Leach reviewing equipment before class.
Joe Woodman, from Greenville County EMS, did an excellent job delivering the two courses that brought together firefighters from Anderson and Greenville counties. One benefit of this course and the instructor was the use of the Adam’s Salvage Yard on White Horse Rd. in Greenville for all practical skills. Mr. Woodman has built a strong relationship with the owners there and they allow many extrication courses to be held each year. They also take part in those classes by setting up vehicles in precarious situations to provide realistic scenarios for students.
I recommend you talk with your tow operators and salvage yards and build partnerships to improve your training. As stated before, there are many companies out there that can provide basic and advanced training so do your homework to ensure you have selected the right program to fit your department needs.
Our AFG grant also included funding for school bus extrication courses. We made plans to host two of these courses to benefit more than just our members. The opportunity to receive training on a school bus doesn’t come very often and we wanted to make sure each student gained the knowledge and skills necessary for improved emergency response.
Make time to properly plan for this type of training due to the logistical requirements. Early on we began to talk with salvage yards and our school district to locate buses for the class. We spoke with the Anderson County Maintenance Supervisor, Robby Adams, about obtaining several buses and explained to him our training plans. Mr. Adams was very helpful, but as we learned there is a tremendous amount of “red tape” to cut through in obtaining school buses.
After a few months of e-mails and phone calls we finally got the approval of four buses with the assistance of some of our political representatives. We then began to finalize our training program and established a great relationship with Billy Leach Jr., developer of Big Rig Rescue. Mr. Leach explained what he could do for us and we also heard good reviews from other responders that have taken his courses. I personally spoke with Mr. Leach many times while organizing this event and I truly appreciate all the direction he gave me.
Very early on we reached out to equipment vendors. The large amount of equipment needed for this class went far beyond our department, so make sure you gain commitments from vendors and continue to speak with them before the class starts. Reciprocating saws, generators and air chisels are very essential tools when dealing with buses so acquire as many as you can for the class.
I can’t stress this part enough as there is nothing worse than having students stand around and wait on tools to complete their scenario. The majority of our class equipment came from the help of Safe Industries, Paratech, and Carson’s Nut Bolt and Tool.
While this was taking place, you must also secure a towing company to move the buses in place. Rick Heatherly and Ronnie Tinsley were instrumental in getting the buses to the training site and both were very easy to work with. Fire departments everywhere should take care of the tow operators in their jurisdictions. They are a valuable asset and will be a big player in the large vehicle extrication scene. Conduct regular training drills with them to ensure familiarity with their equipment and what they can offer you. Consider getting your Emergency Preparedness center involved to assist with planning. They may have outside resources available to you.
Contact each school district in your city or county and invite them to the training and show them your concerns. This can help them make transporting our children and others safer each day. We also contacted the news media about the training to help get the word out. They can come out and do a story on the class to inform the public that emergency responders are going that extra mile to obtain training to effectively handle a school bus emergency. Make sure you have a photographer on hand for pictures that can be used later in training or to develop a presentation to stress the need for responders to have the appropriate equipment and knowledge to mitigate a bus emergency.
Overall the class was a big success and Billy Leach did a tremendous job presenting the course. With his direction all students involved took away knowledge that will improve their capabilities. Mr. Leach was assisted by Barry Dula who brought a great deal of information regarding our later model school buses. We encountered wind and rain during the skills sessions but students rotated through stations of stabilizing, gaining access through the side and roof, enlarging openings, with a positive attitude.
Firehouse Subs provided an excellent lunch at a very economical price that fit well in our budget and have assisted us on more than one occasion now. In the end, we had almost 70 students attend the two day training course from Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg and Cherokee counties. The event reached many firefighters as we had hoped and received great reviews.
We are currently planning other courses and have since conducted our own airbag and lifting training on the buses. If your department or county hasn’t conducted school bus extrication, I encourage you to seek the funding and resources needed to make it happen. These vehicles are one of the safest means of transportation but when involved in an accident it could be major challenge without the right tools and knowledge. Like Billy Leach expressed to our class, passenger car tactics will not work on these vehicles; therefore arm your responders with the skills necessary to safely and efficiently perform a rescue.
If our department can assist you in course planning or in seeking alternate funding please feel free to contact the Belton Fire Dept. at 864-338-7048.