Offutt firefighters prepare for all challenges

  • Published
  • By David G. Eblin, Fire Chief
  • 55th Civil Engineer Squadron

Thirty 55th Civil Engineer Squadron and Omaha Fire Department firefighters participated in a three-day course on trench collapse rescues conducted by Metropolitan Community College (Nebraska) at Offutt Air Force Base last month.

In 2019 a devastating flood destroyed 94 facilities on base. Offutt is in the process of an extensive build-back of the lost facilities, and a massive amount of construction is occurring.

“Most jurisdictions have construction taking place within their response territories that would include trenching and excavating. When accidents happen on these sites, it can lead to dangerous situations that require specialized teams with a specific skill set to manage these scenes safely,” said Nick Gangwish, Metropolitan Community College instructor. “Most fire departments out of necessity have evolved into ‘all hazard agencies.’ When a specialized rescue or recovery is needed, the fire department is called.”

Offutt Fire and Rescue maintains a trailer with the required tools and equipment to conduct a trench collapse rescue at a moment’s notice. Arpad Lepper, Offutt Fire Department assistant chief of training, arranged the training and emphasized the criticality of firefighters working hands-on with all the tools and equipment in a controlled training environment to prepare them for a real-world event.

“The hands-on portion is crucial, so firefighters understand the methodical processes to extricate a trapped worker without creating an additional emergency and getting trapped themselves,” Lepper said.

55th CES heavy equipment operators dug several different shaped trenches at the fire training area to provide a realistic training environment for the firefighters, which allowed them to get ‘down in the trenches’ and operate the tools and equipment in a pragmatic manner.

“Today’s firefighters are expected to be prepared for all types of rescue situations and a trench collapse is just one of many responsibilities that firefighters must train and prepare for,” said Lucas Lechtenberg, Offutt FD deputy chief. “This training was indispensable as it provided such realism to prepare our firefighters.”