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Firefighters learn to 'answer that call'

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. -- Firefighters climbed a rocky hillside to gain traction as they pried open the driver's-side door of an overturned car Saturday. It would be their easiest task that night.

Later, they would cut open the door of a car struck by a tractor-trailer and free a person trapped inside from a head-on collision.

About a dozen firefighters gathered for class Saturday to practice these rescue techniques at Sissonville High School during the 2013 Fire and Rescue School.

They learned how to safely extract someone trapped inside vehicles from various kinds of crashes. These scenarios represented common crashes that emergency workers respond to every day in West Virginia.

The car flipped on the hillside is a common crash in the state's more mountainous counties. It almost always causes an entrapment, said Eddie Taylor, chief of the Jane Lew Fire Department and regional extrication and equipment specialist.

Firefighters used a hydraulic extraction tool, which is a large mechanical claw, to work into the car's door and pry it open. Beginning at the overturned roof and working up, firefighters carefully cut off the doors while making sure no metal would cave in. They then brought in large wooden blocks to help preserve the metal's strength. They cut and pried metal for more than an hour to rescue their invisible patient.

Sissonville Fire Department public information officer Tom Miller said that exercise was probably the easiest they would complete. The hardest would be cutting someone out of a two car, head-on collision. The collision resembles two soda cans smashed together, he said.

"Once the vehicle loses all of it's structural integrity, it becomes a much different scenario," Miller said.

Taylor conducted the class at sundown because he said firefighters need to be experienced responding to nighttime crashes. Firefighters readied their lighting equipment and practiced maneuvering around in full gear.

Buffalo firefighter Linda Lou Morris has responded to a lot of entrapment calls in her 13 years as an emergency responder. She's very familiar with head-on collisions, which often happen along Buffalo's two-lane roads.

Along U.S. Route 35, Morris said, she sees a lot of collisions between coal trucks and cars.

Miller said the Sissonville Fire and Rescue School trained more than 700 first responders from West Virginia and five other states in 2012. This year, more than 750 people came to learn about various topics, including basic and advanced firefighting techniques and team-building exercises.

Miller commended the firefighters for attending Saturday's classes, which should wrap up sometime Sunday.

Many who took classes are volunteer firefighters working on their spare time, he said.

"When someone calls 911, they don't ask if the person responding is paid or volunteer. They just want help," he said. "We're going to make sure we answer that call."

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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