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Firefighters Hone Rescue Skills

By ALICE POPOVICI/The Daily News

FORT MOJAVE - A child playing in a wash wanders inside a storm drain opening and is lost, trapped or bit by a snake.

The hypothetical scenario is all too likely in area subdivisions, but an all-hazard rescue team of area firefighters is now equipped to handle the situation, according to Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department Deputy Chief Don Fisher.

Last week, a team of 24 firefighters from the Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department and the Bullhead City Fire Department, along with one firefighter from the Lake Havasu City Fire Department, participated in a three-day exercise that simulated a confined space rescue inside the Mesa Vista subdivision storm drain system.

Fisher said this type of exercise is beyond the reach of most fire departments due to cost, but the training was made possible by a $45,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

In response to an actual incident, a control team would first arrive on the scene for initial assessment of the situation while a rigging team set up the rescue equipment.

Two firefighters would then be lowered by rope into a sidewalk storm drain opening, assisted by a backup team ready to intervene in the event of an emergency.

Then the patient would be safely attached to a support device that prevents further injury, and lifted to the surface. Firefighters simulated the rescue using a life-size training mannequin.

Fisher said he chose the Mesa Vista subdivision for the training exercise because he has seen children playing near the washes in the area, and the tunnels that extend in a 1/4 mile labyrinth in all directions are just big enough for a child to walk into.

"It's a real life situation that we may end up having to respond to," Fisher said. "They could get bit by a snake, they could fall, they could get lost."

The two departments will next team up for a trench and excavation training session at the end of the month, which will simulate a rescue in the event of a storm drain collapse.

Fisher said he has also applied for a $150,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

PHOTO - DOWN THE DRAIN: A firefighter is lowered on ropes into a storm drain opening in the Mesa Vista subdivision as part of a confined space rescue training exercise last week. The rescue team was made up of Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department and Bullhead City Fire Department firefighters, as well as one firefighter from the Lake Havasu City Fire Department.

Mohave Valley Daily News, May 21, 2007.