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Seven out of 101 Wilson Fire/Rescue Services personnel recently were selected for the new special operations team that will take point on serious rescue operations in the future.
“When there is a trench rescue, whoever is dispatched will arrive on scene and assess what resources are needed,” said Deputy Chief Michael Sumner. “Once it is determined it is a full-blown rescue operation, the special operations team will be called, and the off-duty members will be activated. The team will manage the situation, which will allow us to put the engine company back in service.”
All firefighters already receive training in various rescue operations, but the special ops team’s goal is for members to receive advanced training and become the go-to experts in operations involving trench or high-angle rescues, vehicle extrication and acts of violence.
“These are low-frequency but high-hazard incidents. We’ve got to train for them because at any point in the day, we are liable to get that phone call, and we have to be ready,” Sumner said. “On the team, we may have somebody who is really good at tower rescues, someone who is an expert at working in confined spaces and another person who is great at trench rescues. When you put them together, those skills will combine and the members will work together like a well-oiled machine to provide the best service to our citizens.”
The idea for the team was birthed about 18 months ago, and in May, the fire department worked with members of the Wilson Police Department special response team and Wilson County EMS to select the inaugural firefighters on the team. Initially 21 people applied, and eight went through the tryout that included flipping utility poles, carrying tractor tires, a 3.5-mile hike and interviews.
“I didn’t really care how far they ran, but about seeing how they think when they’re exhausted and how they come together as a team. That was really what I wanted to see from them,” Sumner said. “It was not about where their training was already with knots or rigging because that can be taught, but what we can’t teach is heart, motivation and the willpower to overcome pure exhaustion and keep a clear head to make decisions, adapt and overcome a situation.”
At the end of the 12-hour trial, seven firefighters were selected, and now those members are working to figure through the logistics such as advanced training for the team.
“Training right now is handled on a shift level, and we have folks throughout each shift that have a skill set in an area of expertise, but we felt it would be better if we had a team that can come together with more in-depth training and supplement our response,” said Deputy Chief Jim Campbell.
“When the team trains, it will not be about firefighting or EMS, but about rigging and other rescue skills,” Sumner said. “It will be about proper techniques and how to be safe when using these skills in a real-life scenario.”
Officials said the special operations team is just one part of a continuous improvement strategy for the department.
“Whether it is a house fire or a high-angle rescue, it is our job to help the community. That is why we are in this business,” Sumner said. “We handle anything from busted water heaters to full-blown working house fires to hazardous materials. That is what makes this group of men and women so unique; they are able to adapt and overcome to get the job done.”