Boot Camp: Vital training, but a family reunion too

By: Mark Tarnacki
fire and rescue hilltop

The start of school means different things to different students.

Every year since 2007 for members of the Saint Michael's Fire & Rescue squads, it's meant "Boot Camp" -- five days of special training that allows veteran and new members to get reoriented and back in the rhythms of their important life-and-death work beyond the classroom.

Part of Boot Camp this year was a training simulation on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at the steep hill by the jug handle near Merrill Cemetery across Route 15 from campus. The exercise, lasting from about 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., offered practice for about 35 participating members from both the fire and rescue units at responding properly to a car wreck over an embankment.

In the simulation, the "patient," played by senior Rescue member Emily Polo '15, needed to be extricated from the wreck, kept stable medically and transported by backboard in a special basket up the embankment to a waiting ambulance.

fire rescue out of carBattalion Chief and Saint Michael's Director of Public Safety Pete Soons' 82, who was on hand to observe, says each year they get several cars from Rathe's salvage yard in Colchester for training. It was seven cars this year -- "three for cutting, three for burning and this one," Soons said.

Planning and running the training was Timothy "Carter" Neville '08, an alumnus of the squad who now is a paramedic for Essex Rescue and a member or Colchester Technical Rescue Team, which was at the simulation with equipment and expertise. Training officers working with him from Saint Michael's were, for fire members, 1st Lieutenant Nate Richard '15, and for rescue, 1st Lt. David Weiss '15.

Leslie Lindquist '05, assistant rescue chief and a former biology major who after graduation completed an advanced paramedic program and earned a master's in health science before returning to St. Mike's full-time a year ago, said Boot Camp shows the lasting bond that squad members feel even after they graduate.

fire and rescue basket"We have about a dozen alumni who have come back, folks who have gone on to do something whether in fire service or health care, and they offer expertise to teach students," Lindquist explained. "They come from throughout New England and even as far as South Carolina -- some from the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with more recent graduates." She said some stay with alumni or friends they know in the area for the days they are here, while others stay in the firehouse. One of the most veteran returnees was Paul Yellen '76 of Moosup, CT.

Lindquist estimated that 12 new students added to the ranks since last fall were part of Boot Camp while also undergoing their more extensive necessary initial training. "They get a lot out of this," she said. But veteran members, too, "continue to hear information again or learn new and better techniques so they're all honing their skills. It's nice when alums can come back and share new things so we can always do things the best and right way."

The simulation went well, Lindquist said afterward. In a debrief at the station they agreed that fire and rescue worked well together, with good communications "A scenario like that helps you think outside the box, think about how much equipment would you have to bring, especially on a hot day like today with concerns about hydrating members who were working in the heavy gear," she said. One member prompted everyone at the debriefing to imagine if it had been at night, requiring them to bring lighting. "It's good to think about situations we don't encounter every day, so we'll be ready when it happens," she said.

Lindquist said the "patient," Emily Polo, told the debriefing that it was unique to be on that side of things and thinking what it feels like to be a patient, physically and psychologically, with people talking about you but not necessarily to you, while you feel powerless and have to trust the rescuers completely.

While Fire and Rescue is a 24-7, 365-days-a-year operation, Lindquist said, many students go home for the summer, though others stay right through. For those who were gone for weeks or months, Boot Camp is a way to assure everyone is up to speed on whatever is new with operations for the squads.

fire rescue line downThe exercise marked the end of Boot Camp as students gear up for the start of classes at the end of the week, and Chief Soons invited everyone to his lake house to unwind after the simulation.

 "They have a day off and then the weekend to recover from the hard work they've been doing, and with other friends returning soon, they'll fall right back into classes and the school year routine," Lindquist said.

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