In times of disaster, first responders are often the only thing victims can rely on for help.
Those first responders also have to rely on their training, which is what a recent exercise in Emporia was meant to do.
Held by Midwest Search and Rescue, a non-profit based out of Lenexa, the event was offered for free to area first responders, police officers, firefighters and EMS.
Randy Hill, director of Midwest Search and Rescue, said that continuing these training exercises are crucial for the workers to continue to provide the best service possible and that this course was newly developed.
“This particular course is a brand-new one that we rolled out,” Hill said. “One of the things that we’ve realized is that that first responders, volunteer firefighters, and police officers are going to be first on the scene, and may be the only ones on scene for several hours.
“We put together a course that shows them some of the things they would encounter and some of the things they can do while waiting for more advanced teams to arrive.”
Since advanced equipment won’t always be readily available, one aspect of the course includes using the basic equipment most first responders carry.
“There are really simple things that have to do with using the basic equipment that they carry on the fire engines and rescue units every day,” Hill said.
Hill is a retired firefighter, and served in that capacity for 32 years before beginning Midwest Fire and Rescue three years ago.
He said that in disaster situations, first responders could be the only ones on scene for a few hours and potentially even longer, depending on the situation and how fast National Guard or other help can be deployed.
“The first responders are going to have to be self-sufficient for maybe 12 hours,” Hill said. “So the training we do teaches them how to use the equipment and handle a disaster scene safely. It also teaches them how to organize themselves and other volunteers that show up.”
He pointed out the amount of community support following the Joplin EF-5 tornado in 2011.
“Like Joplin, so many people came flooding in in the first few hours,” Hill said. “Many of those people didn’t really have training, and it’s up to the first responders to get those people organized and keep them from doing things on a disaster scene that are going to get more people hurt.”
The class is officially called Technical Rescue and Disaster Response, and as the name implies, it is important to have refreshers.
“One of things that I tell everybody is that this kind of training has about a six-month shelf life at beast,” Hill said. “This is the kind of thing that you really need to do. A lot of it is basic skills, but you need to be reminded.
“These skills that we’re talking about, if you don’t stay proficient and practiced, they can go away really quick.”
Hill said that it’s the basic stuff that first responders need to practice more often, because it’s the kind of thing that they are going to have to do the most.
The seminar starts with lecture on the first day, where Hill talks about the history of tornadoes. He also reminds first responders about disasters like the 1974 tornado in Emporia that killed seven people.
“When we look at history, we see that’s it’s been awhile since we’ve had a significant tornado in Kansas,” Hill said. “The one in Reading did a lot of damage to the town, but it wasn’t too big of a tornado in the scheme of things.”
The second day is hands on, using ropes, ladders and even debris to shore up walls to safely enter a structure or to remove victims from rubble.
They also teach the proper way to do searches and mark structures so there is no duplication of efforts.
Another part of the instruction is also about state and federal resources that are available to help following a disaster.
“We do this just to make sure they understand that there are resources out there,” Hill said. “But the reality is that they’re not going to get there very fast.
“We talk about being able to work with the Highway Patrol and the National Guard, and some of those other agencies that are going to come in. We also discuss the problems they’ll encounter with security, looters and citizens that want to help.”
The class can also include Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
He said that the instructors are top-notch, and come from all over the state.
“We’re able to bring these people in who have a great deal of experience,” Hill said. “The neat thing is to be able to build partnerships between the business community and the first response teams.
“There’s really nothing out there to teach a basic course for first responders who are really going to be doing most of the work initially. We want to teach them the right and wrong way to do things and make sure they do things safely.”
With tornados and other disasters, a harsh reality is that it is only a matter of time until the next one hits, and no one can know when it’s coming.
“That’s one of the things that we talk about,” Hill said. “Here we are sitting right in the middle of Tornado Alley. The risk is tremendous for something to happen. The reality is that the further we get away from the last big disaster, the closer we are to the next. I think that really opens some eyes.”
As far as the average person is concerned, Hill said one key thing everyone should know is how to shut off their utilities. Leaking gas lines can easily lead to even more injuries and damage.
“It’s not only important that the first responders are prepared,” Hill said. “It’s important that their families and neighbors are prepared. There’s a ton of information out there on what the average citizen can do to make sure they’re ready if a disaster hits their area.”
More information on the non-profit and their training classes can be found at www.midwestsearchandrescue.org.