A group of five members of the Whistler Fire Services auto extrication team headed to Puyallup, Washington for the 2009 Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee's International Challenge two weeks ago, taking on fire departments from as far away as the U.K. and Sweden.
The Whistler team came away with first place out of 14 teams in the unlimited category, where firefighters were allowed to use hydraulic tools like the jaws of life and other power tools to extricate victims from cars after accidents.
Team member Ken Roberts said the teams were given a challenging scenario, with a car on its side with the passenger in the bottom of the vehicle. The vehicle had a crushed roof, another car on top and a concrete barrier to block off the most obvious rescue point. As well the vehicle had a propane tank that firefighters had to work around, with just 20 minutes to perform the rescue.
"It was a pretty crazy setup, but you have to be ready for anything," he said. "A lot of times these contests involve (concrete posts), concrete barriers. They might throw in some electrical cables from downed lines, or a fire hydrant that's gushing water, or propane bottles. The goal is to make it as difficult as possible."
The team takes these competitions seriously, says Roberts, as they simulate actual scenarios that extrication crews might face in an emergency.
"Beyond winning a little trophy, the reason we do it is so we can improve our skills and our training," he said. "By going to these contests we get to talk to the top guys from the U.K., from Sweden, from all over the U.S. and Canada, and we talk about different techniques we've used to get people out safely and quickly.
"There's also a symposium that's part of the competition where they have guest speakers that will talk about new car technology, or something like hybrid vehicles - how do you deal with hybrids and their battery packs in an extrication? We just want to stay on top."
Whistler has had an auto extrication team before, but it disbanded for almost six years until firefighters brought it back in 2007. They practice on damaged or abandoned vehicles and are looking for sponsors to help with the cost of towing vehicles.
The team that went to Washington included Roberts, rescue commander Pat Shuen, David Lunghammer, Luke Powell and Star Quinn.
Up to eight members of Whistler Fire Rescue are part of the team, with five or six members heading to two or three contests a year. They usually compete in regional or national competitions with solid results, but the TERC Challenge was their first international contest.
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