Post fire department, Ireland clinic join forces for joint training exercise

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The Fort Knox Fire Department, in partnership with Ireland Army Health Clinic and Fort Knox MEDDAC, held a high-rise fire and rescue training event at the clinic Sept. 13.

The purpose, according to John Cecil, who is the IRAHC safety and occupational health manager, was to offer realistic training for fire response in a high-rise situation while giving medical staff an opportunity to practice fire response procedures.

“Our staff needs to be highly trained and confident about implementing fire response procedures so we can protect our patients, visitors and staff,” Cecil said. “This joint operation provides more intense training and realism of what moving pieces will be involved in an actual fire, particularly in the high rise. We serve the best customers in the world, so we owe it to them to know what to do and to do it effectively.”

He added that being the tallest building on post means being one of the more difficult structures for the fire department to respond to, so periodic training in full response mode helps their teams’ responses be more effective.

During the exercise, firefighters responded to a simulated fire on the eight floor with two engine trucks, a ladder truck, and a command and control vehicle. They quickly set up the engines for fire suppression and a ladder truck for possible external extraction. Teams entered the building, ran up the stairs to the eighth floor with full gear and additional patient movement equipment.

At the eighth floor, they determined the source of the fire alarm, respond with simulated fire suppression in a heavily smoke-filled room, identified occupants and safely removed them.

After the new health clinic opens, the existing building will be torn down, so firefighters acknowledged this will be one of the few remaining opportunities for them to use the structure in a drill.

The training is referred to as “high-rise” when a facility is over four stories, explained Jay Schiedewitz, the Fort Knox fire chief. Because of the additional height, traditional firefighting tactics and equipment, to include rescue, change dramatically.

“In a high-rise fire, we face a uniquely difficult set of challenges [regarding] fighting fire, communications, rescuing occupants and fire spread,” he explained. “Clear and simple procedures, strongly reinforced with extensive training and knowledge of [building layout], are the best measure for successful operations.”

Responding to a call, setting up and attacking a fire all take longer in a high-rise, he explained. Usually, fire fighters can pull needed equipment from a truck to the facility. With a high-rise, the equipment gets carried to the floor below the fire and set up while an evacuation is in progress. All that adds time, which allows the fire to grow.

Fort Knox firefighters regularly train for a variety of situations that have their own, unique difficulties. Some of those include residential verses commercial fires as well as aircraft, vehicle and wildland fires. They also train for rescues that include low- and high-angle extrication, aircraft, water, caves and mines. Additionally, Schiedewitz said all fire fighters are hazardous material technicians — considered the highest level of certification — emergency medical technicians, and trained in rescue task force for active shooter events.

Schiedewitz said most people he encounters don’t know all that his firefighters can actually accomplish, how many there are, or how talented. Fort Knox is one of only seven accredited fire departments in the Army and the third one in the state of Kentucky — through the Center for Public Safety.

“Fire and emergency services are essential to the well-being and safety of our nation,” he said. “We protect the Soldiers, their Families, visitors and the civilian workforce on and off the installation with four fire districts, three fire stations and 58 firefighters, to include a fire prevention section. We also house and manage the E911 center.”

To make his point, Schiedewitz said the fire department responds to over 1,100 emergencies per year and while many are false alarms, there are always a few that challenge the team.

“We recently rescued 12 tubers lost on the Salt River and stranded in an impact area,” he recalled. “Working with our mutual aid partners, range control and game warden, our team was able to rescue all 12 without incident; and a few weeks ago, the team rescued two Soldiers who fell down a 25-foot hole on one of the ranges, utilizing their rescue technician training for a flawless operation.

He added a final example, when they supported Radcliff Fire Department on a mutual aid request for a recycle processing company that had caught fire.

“We sent our aircraft firefighting vehicle
to assist in extinguishing the fire,” he concluded — “so, training is important.” n