Firefighters from across region train on ladders in Elizabethton

Published 9:32 am Thursday, March 5, 2015

NW0305 LEDE Firefighter Training

While theirs isn’t a typical “corporate ladder,” rookie firefighters from six different Northeast Tennessee fire departments are in Elizabethton this week, climbing their way to success.

Fifteen firefighters from Elizabethton, Newport, Kingsport, Eastman Chemical Co., Johnson City and Piney Flats volunteer fire departments will complete classroom and skill sessions – all part of a 16-week course that teaches them to do their job safely. The Elizabethton Fire Department is hosting the group through the end of the week, and the focus is on ladders and safety.

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“This is a required course for paid departments in the area,” EFD Engineer Andy Hardin said. “They need to complete 400 hours of a fire training course through a state-accredited program before they can be hired into their departments.”

The training sessions are held at different fire departments throughout the region, with each session focusing on a different skill or topic, Hardin said. While Elizabethton’s session deals with ladders and safety, other topics covered at different locations included victim rescue, SCUBA usage, hoses, HAZMAT, first-responder skills and the science behind fire and firefighting.

“The training teaches the basics of what we do as firefighters,” Hardin said. “We teach the rookies how to correctly and safely do these tasks. They will then go on to their own fire departments and learn more about the different things each department does.”

The EFD hosted training on Wednesday and Thursday in Elizabethton. The EFD’s training will continue Friday but will be located in Johnson City so the new firefighters can practice ladder usage in a multistory facility and can practice victim rescue.

At the EFD training, the new firefighters made their way through four different stations, with each station focusing on a new ladder skill. The first station taught firefighters how to safely use a ladder while carrying tools, and how to “lock in” to a ladder so the firefighter can work without worrying about falling off. To “lock in” to a ladder, the firefighter weaves their leg around a ladder rung and hooks their foot onto the rung below. This method secures them onto the ladder so they can work on the structure nearby.

“Even if I let go, I am not going to fall,” EFD firefighter Andy Wetzel said, leaning back away from the ladder. “Even if I pass out, I will not fall from the ladder. I will fall back, but I will not fall to the ground.”

The second station had firefighters climbing to the top of the 75-foot ladder on the EFD ladder truck.

“A lot of the firefighters have never been that high before,” Hardin said. “This helps them get used to that height and helps them get used to climbing that far with their gear on.”

The third station focused on roof ladders. Firefighters trained on how to climb to a roof and then secure a roof-ladder to it. This would allow firefighters to vent the roof by punching holes through it, or whatever needs to be done on the roof to fight the fire, Hardin said.

The firefighters practiced setting up a single ladder by themselves at the final station. In most situations, they try to work in teams, but if that is not possible, this training shows them to proper way to set a secure ladder.

Today’s training will focus on using larger ladders, Hardin said. If snow and ice are a part of the forecast as expected, the training will move inside the old Ritchie’s Furniture Warehouse across the street from the EFD.

“They will likely come across those conditions when working as a firefighter,” Hardin said. “Obviously, we want to be as safe as we can during training.”

The training is part of the regional firefighter’s training association that includes departments from Elizabethton, Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, Newport, Morristown, Eastman and Greeneville. The training is made available first to paid firefighters, Hardin said. If space is available, the sessions are extended to volunteer fire departments.