Reaching new heights: Firefighters build skills on tower

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Firefighter Trip Kingree prepares to rappel from the roof of the old Dixie Grain building on Depot Street. (T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds)

Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and for emergency responders, training also makes for safety.

The Shelbyville Fire Department, Bedford County Fire Department and Bedford County EMS Technical Rescue Team are training at the abandoned Dixie Grain plant on Depot Street. Bobby Sanders, the owner, is leasing the 60-foot tower to emergency responders to use, said Charles Armstrong, SFD assistant chief for training.

New equipment

Emergency responders bought high-angle/low-angle rescue equipment six months ago and have been training with the gear, Armstrong said. The gear has come in handy, such as the rescue earlier this month of a kayaker on Duck River.

The SFD's A-Shift trained on Thursday, Armstrong said. C-Shift trained about a week ago, and B-Shift will be next Thursday. There are about 11 firefighters on each shift.

SFD Capt. John Young helped other shift members perform a high-angle rescue using a training dummy called Rescue Randy. The dummy was placed in a litter and was sent down a line from the top of the tower to where the rope was tied off on the back of a Fire Department pickup truck. Young, who retrieved Rescue Randy on the ground, said the main rope involved has a weight tolerance of 9,000 pounds.

Practice makes perfect

Rodney Schmiede with the Tech Team and Fire Department was one of the emergency responders who practiced rappelling down and back up the tower. He said he performs about 24 hours of rope training each month. The technique is not new to him since he is a caver. He also is head rope instructor for the Tech Team, Armstrong said.

Firefighter Amanda O'Brien practiced her first rappelling session on Thursday. She is the granddaughter of Johnny Deason, who was a volunteer firefighter for 67 years. She said she was very nervous, but she quickly learned the ropes.

Firefighters must train 20 hours a month for various skills, Armstrong said. That not only makes their job more safe, but helps the city. The training facility will give the city eight ISO points, which helps lower homeowners' insurance premiums.

Many uses

The use of the old plant on Depot Street is great news for the Fire Department, Armstrong said, because the building will allow for a variety of training uses.

"The potential of the building is limitless," he said.

In addition to high-angle/low-angle rescue, the building can be used for aerial truck training, Armstrong said. Tyson Foods donated old ammonia valves, which are mounted on the front of the structure. Firefighters will start using the valves in training to simulate an ammonia leak and practice repairing the valves. And, open spaces inside the building will allow for rope training during bad weather.

The building does need some repairs, such as filling in holes in floors, Armstrong said. The Public Works Department laid gravel already, and vegetation which had overgrown the building has been cleared away. Jail trustees have helped with the labor. Next, the Fire Department will place its logo on the building.