About a couple dozen Parker County volunteer firefighters pulled out the shovels and lumber Friday for a long weekend of trench rescue training.
The group of firefighters from various departments across the county, including Aledo, Greenwood, Brock-Dennis and ESD No. 6, are doing the learning now so they are prepared for the rare emergency when their skills are needed for a complex rescue operation.
Under instruction from a instructors from a South Carolina group, the volunteers used shovels, ropes and lumber, as well as specialized equipment, to gail practical experience in the dirt.
For at least 8 hours a day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the group trained for incidents like the July 2008 trench collapse in Hudson Oaks that left a man largely buried or the May 2011 incident south of Willow Park where a man became stuck in a clay trench in his yard.
Both were successfully rescued.
The typical trench rescue takes six to 12 hours, Emergency Response Team Wade West said.
Trench rescue is hard manual labor and can be complex, according to Fire Marshal Shawn Scott, who said that if they are at the scene some part of the trench has already been compromised.
“With the growth occurring, the utility work, the opportunity for these types of events increases,” Scott said. “When you need it, you have to be ready.”
The trench rescue class is the first of several training classes that firefighters will take this year as part of the Emergency Response Team, West said. Other topics to be addressed include swift water rescue, high angle rescue, and hazardous materials training.
All the approximately 26 volunteers have at least three to four years experience with a department and have been selected through an application process.
“We want a higher level of trained, experienced folks,” West said.
It’s not as glamorous or popular a specialization as the wildland taskforce that boasts about a 100 Parker County firefighters, Scott said. However, the team is the one called when they need to do a wide-area missing persons search, a confined space rescue or a
“It’s high risk, low frequency,” Scott said.
Though it’s uncommon to call out the ERT team, Scott said just having a trained group of local volunteers on hand can make a difference when it counts.
The closest similar groups operate out of the Metroplex area and take about an hour just to reach an incident in the east part of the county, longer to the west, Scott said.
For about three years, the trench rescue equipment has been in moth balls, West said.
The group lapsed due to lack of organization, interest and, particularly, funding, according to Scott.
But now that the former search and rescue group has been reformed as the Parker County Emergency Response Team and is becoming operational, they are beginning to learn or relearn how to use the equipment.
That step forward happened with the help of the community, as well as the volunteers, Scott said.
ESD No. 6 Spring Creek volunteered their station for the classroom time and QFC Services allowed the team to use the land to gain the hands on experience.
Lowes donated material and equipment, such as the lumber, and United Rentals donated the use of the backhoe all weekend, Scott said. The Parker County CERT team was also on hand providing rehab service as the volunteers took up shovels on the 80-degree day.