Calif. firefighters dig trench training

By Jerry Soifer
The Press Enterprise
Copyright 2007 The Press Enterprise, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

NORCO, Calif. — About 30 years ago, Riverside Fire Engineer Robert Linden was involved in an unsuccessful rescue of a man trapped in a trench.

"It ended up being a body recovery," Linden said. "The training wasn't to the level it is today."

To help firefighters be better prepared to rescue a person trapped in trenches and confined spaces, Linden was an instructor at a 16-hour training session offered by the Norco Fire Department at Ingalls Park in Norco on Tuesday and Wednesday.

More than 30 firefighters from Norco, Corona, Hemet, Murrieta, the city of Riverside and Riverside County departments attended.

Riverside firefighter-paramedic Josh Fudge said the training was important because of all the digging of trenches that goes along with development in the city.

Hemet Fire Engineer Mike Spaulding said he would return to his city and pass on the training he received in Norco.

"I'm learning more than books can teach you," Spaulding said.

Four hours of classroom instruction preceded 12 hours of hands-on practice. Norco Fire Capt. Mark Gilman said the class was held through the California Task Force 6 urban search and rescue team. There are eight teams in California.

Firefighters learn myriad skills to do their jobs. Gilman said an understanding of construction and soil types as it relates to excavation are needed.

Firefighters need to understand the dangers presented by sewer lines, high-pressure natural gas pipes and gasoline transmission lines.

"We can be called to any type of construction accident involving any type of machinery," Gilman said.

To prepare for Wednesday's session, the Norco Public Works Department dug an 8-foot-deep trench about 30 inches wide in the park near the 4-H barn. Plywood and other materials were used to shore the walls of the trench so they didn't collapse on the firefighters.

A dummy with a firefighter's protective coat was placed at the bottom of the trench. A hoist was brought in to lift the dummy. Corona Capt. Frank Re and Murrieta Capt. David Perez, who wore sunglasses for eye protection, descended to prepare the dummy to be lifted.

Perez said he had never received that kind of training in his 10 years in the fire service.

About five to six years ago, Perez said he had to play an auxiliary role on the perimeter of a rescue in Murrieta because he lacked training.

"I did a lot of shuttling of logistics stuff," Perez said.

After the dummy was hoisted out, Re said, "I didn't know how much manpower it takes. We have to keep ourselves safe and not become part of the problem."

Gilman said, "We're definitely a lot more prepared than we were at the beginning."

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