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Trench training tough
Course readies firefighters for real-life rescues
WEBtrench 1 wide shot jd
The Forsyth County Fire Department, along with fire personnel from several other jurisdictions, participated in trench collapse training exercises last week behind Fire Station 2 in south Forsyth. The exercises were designed to simulate real-life situations where people could be stuck in a trench, a common emergency in the construction industry. - photo by Jim Dean (previous profile)

Trench rescue is a dirty job, and the training isn't much different.

The Forsyth County Fire Department, along with fire personnel from several other jurisdictions, participated in trench collapse training exercises last week behind Fire Station 2 in south Forsyth.

Thursday their skills will be tested.

The exercises were designed to simulate real-life situations where one or more people could be stuck in a trench, a common emergency in the construction industry.

Forsyth Fire Capt. Jason Shivers said the can be just as dangerous as a real-life scenario.

"There's still potential for a collapse, so all the real-life safety precautions are being taken," Shivers said.

Those precautions include having the county water and sewer department's vacuum truck on hand and building stabilizing mechanisms, known as shields, out of planks and hydraulic rams before entering the L-shaped hole. A fan system is also used to force oxygen below the surface, Shivers said.

"In subgrade rescues oxygen levels can be lower than required to sustain human life," he said, adding that natural gases in the soil could also negatively affect the oxygen supply.

Those who participated last week hailed from jurisdictions that make up the Georgia Search and Rescue Task Force 6 of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Lee Parker, Forsyth fire's training division chief, said practicing with agencies from other areas is useful in real-life situations, where more than one jurisdiction may respond.

"This allows several agencies to work together and learn from one another," Parker said.

The agencies that participated last week include Haralson and Bartow counties, as well as the cities of Calhoun and Carrollton.

The lead instructor, Lt. Scott Kennedy, works full time for Gwinnett County and part time for Forsyth.

"For a lot of our guys this is a refresher and my hope is at least three of our guys out of this class will become instructors in trench rescue," Parker said.

He said those taking the class will take a test this week for national certification in trench rescue.  

The training will also be counted as part of the departments' requirements for GEMA standards.  

Last week, the men trained in cold and damp conditions. Forsyth Fire Lt. Zack Brazzle said rainy weather plays a factor in trench rescue.

"It makes it hard to work in, but it also deteriorates the trenches," he said. "Dryness can also have an effect and cause cracks in the walls."

He said 1 cubic foot of soil can weigh 100 to 150 pounds. If it drops 8 feet, it can pack a 40-mph punch.

The trench firefighters were training in last week was about 14 feet deep and about 3.5 feet wide.

"This is probably some of the more dangerous training we do," Brazzle said.