Electeds from Several Cities Get Lessons in Fire and Rescue Operations
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 12, 2022)
Auburn Hills, MI – Stomping through the grounds of the Combined Regional Emergency Services Training (CREST) Center at Oakland Community College wearing layers of protective clothing, a bulky helmet, thick gloves, and a 40 lb tank strapped to their back was no easy task for the elected officials who gathered for a day of Fire Ops 101 training. Yet a dozen local leaders from seven different communities came together Oct. 7 to get just a taste of what their fire departments do on behalf of the community.
They spent the day getting first-hand experience putting out a car fire, entering a smoke-filled building, facing a HAZMAT risk, coordinating a rescue in an active shooter situation, and using the jaws of life and other tools to extract a victim from a crashed vehicle. They also learned about the teamwork that first responders must have to navigate situations safely.
The training was conducted by firefighters in OAKWAY, which is a collaboration between 10 fire departments covering 14 municipalities and about half the population of Oakland County. The group is able to pool resources for training and supplies, as well as gaining the benefits of working together. OAKWAY departments provide mutual aid, which means when there’s a fire in one community, nearby communities can send crews and equipment in to help.
Participation in OAKWAY costs less than $10,000 per year for the communities that participate. Fire Ops 101 helps show the elected officials and city administrators the value of sharing resources and working together.
“We have each others back in all aspects of fire services, and we have your backs as well,” said Josh Dorma, a Battalion Chief with the Waterford Fire Department.
Each official was assigned a “handler,” in most cases a firefighter from their community, to help with putting on the gear, using the various tools of the job, and to help make sure each participant was safe, and protected from heat and exhaustion.
West Bloomfield Clerk Debbie Binder was paired with West Bloomfield Firefighter/Paramedic Nick Benning for the experience.
“This job is not easy. In fact it is incredibly challenging and takes extraordinary commitment and training,” Binder said. “I was 100% exhausted from a full day of the activities they do every day! Our scenarios did not involve genuine trauma or bleeding. The emotional strength to confront these challenges daily takes a special person and requires community support to keep them going.”
The training covered multiple situations first responders face, but new this year for officials was the active shooter training. In decades past police would clear shooting scenes before medical teams could act. However with the increase of violent situations, fire departments are doing more training to go into “warm zones,” which are areas near where a shooter may be. Jim Etzin led the demo inside a bank building that is set up on the campus for training purposes.
There officials like Royal Oak Mayor Mike Fournier and Commissioner Brandon Kolo learned how to use tourniquets to stop bleeding and how to work together to drag victims to safety. They learned how paramedics train with police to have shared protocols when entering warm zones, and how they work in unison to stay safe. And they learned how rescue workers use different color triage tape to identify how serious victims’ injuries are.
“Now when you see these things unfold on TV, now you can know more of what’s going on,” Etzin told the group.
Not only did the electeds learn the tactical aspects of rescue work, the learned of the mental challenges as well. “This is a physically and psychologically taxing aspect of what we do,” Etzin said. “I often visit these sites after attacks, and the biggest thing is the mental health aspect. …We shift into auto pilot and focus on what we have to do. But when that adrenaline wears off, these firefighters will be physically and emotionally exhausted and they need to decompress.” He said more departments are investing in mental health support for police and fire personnel, and that the days of being tough and not talking about feelings are in the past. “We encourage mental health support in our communities,” he said.
“The Oakway Training was an amazing experience, and really highlights the challenges our fire departments face,” Kolo told Oakland County Times. “I think everyone always knew that being a firefighter was a hard job – but wearing their equipment and going through the motions of putting out a real fire highlight to me just how hard their job is. My back is going to be sore for a few days after carrying the oxygen tank. I think it’s important for any employer to know the challenges their employees face.
“As an elected official, this experience helps give me an insight to the needs of our firefighters. I am very proud that Royal Oak has prioritized public safety with a dedicated millage, and this year increased the number of dedicated firefighters we have keeping our city safe. One big takeaway from the Oakway training was the need for more resources to departments, and this is an area where Royal Oak is a leader.”
Madison Heights councilperson Quinn Wright was also impressed with the experience. “Fire Ops 101 training was fantastic,” Wright said. “I loved learning about the various trainings first responders go through. The most impressive part of the training, was the people. The teamwork they have the, camaraderie, the commitment to the job that is admirable. ”
Participants included Madison Heights City Attorney Tim Burns, Carol Morland of Rochester Hills, Quinn Wright of Madison Heights, Rochester Hills Public Safety Board Member Scott Struzik, West Bloomfield Clerk Debbie Binder, Stephanie Fakih and Valerie Murray from Bloomfield Township, Royal Oak City Manager Paul Brake, Royal Oak Mayor Mike Fournier, Royal Oak Commissioner Brandon Kolo, Southfield Deputy City Attorney Marceline Pruit, Birmingham Commissioner Andrew Haig and Ted McCabe who is the elected Fire Commissioner for Orchard Lake.
Learn more about OAKWAY at http://www.oakway.org/