For firefighters, it's practice, practice, practice

November 03, 2003|EMILY BURTON

PERRYVILLE - "We're shuttling water from this point to that point," said Boyle County volunteer fireman Shane King Saturday as he picked up a traffic cone and waved a dripping water tanker into the Perryville United Methodist Church parking lot.

It wasn't really just a simple pumping exercise, however.

Firefighters from six local stations were actually practicing a new chain-of-command system during the day-long training exercise, one of two Boyle County holds each year.

At the church, firefighters monitored a black fire hose running into the Chaplin River to draw 1,800 gallons of water into waiting tanker trucks in less than five minutes. A mile down the road the water was sprayed back into the river.

On a white, dry-erase board propped up on the back of a fire engine, volunteers' names were connected by blue marker to form a visual hierarchy of command.


The new personnel organization method is called the Incident Command System. Training officer and Burgin Fire Department assistant Chief Donald Sexton Jr. explained the new system as he watched the tankers being filled.

"You break it down into a chain of command, so that at no time do you have more than four people reporting to you. The captain can't handle 30 men all at once," said Sexton Jr.

The system resembles a basketball tournament bracket in that four volunteers report to a single person, who is responsible for reporting to a higher authority, who in turn keeps the chief informed of progress or problems during a run. Emphasis is placed on the ability of sub-leaders to solve most of their own problems without the chief's help.

Sexton said the 8-hour training class on Saturday helped the volunteers learn what was expected of them under the system, and what they could accomplish on their own.

"It's teaching our firefighters to have confidence that they can fix their problems, and they do. They're learning that, no matter what we throw at them today, they can handle it," said Sexton Jr. "These guys are doing a great job, and they've already fixed some problems this morning."

At the other end of a mile-long stretch of water-splashed road, Woody Ball stood in the old Boy Scout camp on KY 68 and watched three full tankers spew river water into holding tanks. Behind him, a hose shot water into the river at a rate of 600 gallons per minute.

Ball, Danville Deputy Fire Chief, said last week the Danville Fire Department responded to four fires within an 88 minutes of one another, and said they used the "modular organization" of the Incident Command System to organize efforts during the separate runs.

"The Incident Command System worked great," said Ball.

Boyle County Fire Chief Bud Sexton said the exercise on Saturday was going just as well as last week's runs.

"It's going well, once we got started ... We're learning to work together," said Sexton. "It's kind of like a football game, it takes a little while to get the teamwork going."

Sexton Jr. said teamwork and results had improved since that morning.

"It's more about organization than flowing water, we know we can flow water. They went from 500 gallons per minute to 800 gallons per minute," said Sexton Jr. "They (firefighters) found what works and what doesn't, and that's what it's all about."

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