Elaborate Fire-Rescue drill impresses NYFD veteran
They weren’t real – the smoke and casualties pouring out of Hamel Hall on the North Campus of Saint Michael’s College during an elaborate training drill for the College’s signature student-staffed fire and rescue squads on the Wednesday before new-student move-in day in late August.
But some important things were as real as it gets, according to on-scene trainer-observer Tom “Toddy” Farragher, a 35-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department and 9/11 responder: for instance, the professionalism, abilities, leadership and character of the student firefighters and rescue crew.
“The time and effort and work they put into it is absolutely incredible — and not a complaint out of them,” said Farragher, who hasn’t missed an SMFR August “boot camp” for 10 years running since they began in 2007, the year his son, Tommy Farragher ’11, first joined. The younger Farragher, also now a New York City firefighter, was back with his dad to help with this year’s boot camp – a tradition of recent years that helps members hit the ground running at a new school year’s start.
Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue (SMFR) squads had honored Toddy with a rare honorary membership the evening before this drill for his “unwavering support of the department,” said Leslie Lindquist ’05, chief of the Saint Michael’s Rescue Squad. “He takes time off to share his wonderful experience that he brings from New York,” she said.
For the morning’s “mass casualty drill,” planned and orchestrated by student Lieutenants Brian Eldridge of Fire and Marty Maloney of Rescue, SMFR volunteers played the roles of victims with major injuries, gathering beforehand on the Hamel back steps to compare medical charts they wore around their necks.
Allison Avery, junior biology major from Westford MA, was playing the mother of a child with “decreased mental status and head-bobbing.” Luke Woodard ’18, sociology major from Kensington, MD, said his victim-character was to have “jumped out a second-floor window with a broken femur and uncontrollable bleeding squiring from my leg, so I’m in a pretty bad way.” Victoria Creighton, sophomore business major, was “going to go unresponsive from smoke inhalation” and have to be carried down a ladder out a second-story window.
Alarms started to sound about 9:30 a.m. as theatrical smoke-machines inside Hamel began creating a somewhat realistic effect — though Toddy Farragher discussed in the front entrance with students about what important physical properties might be different about the smoke in a real fire.
“This training exercise will include multiple simulated patients, a mock response from fire and rescue crews, and a whole lot of chaos,” said Lindquist as she watched from off to the side, playing the part of an emergency dispatcher on her hand-held radio from the bus stop near Hamel. “There’s going to be some surprises along the way.”
Other SMFR alumni at the scene who came back for this year’s boot camp were Casey Bonoyer ’13, now a firefighter for the City of Charleston, SC; T.J. Coolidge ’08, a Bridgeport, CT, firefighter; Andrew Young ’16, an Advanced EMT for AmCare Ambulance in St. Albans, who observed the treatment area during the drill; and Al Torrizo, a squad veteran from the late 1990s. Additionally, Lindquist said, 11 other Fire and Rescue alums helped with trainings over five days of boot camp that led up to the drill.
Organizer/planner Brian Eldridge ’18, a biology major with chemistry minor from Dover, NH, said the drill was “basically a large building fire that replicates a dorm, so there’s a large area to search — three floors — larger than a standard residential home.” He said members were practicing basic skills all week during boot camp to use in the drill, “from hose work and forceful entry to search and rescue.”
The drama of the drill was palpable from the initial rolling up of Engines 8 and 9 with full crews in complete gear running from their trucks into the building, to “victims” yelling “Save me!” and “Help!” from upstairs windows, to victims being carried out and placed on backboards in the triage staging area out front. “Victim” Avery even went the extra mile with heart-wrenching dramatics about her injured infant.
Lindquist said instructors for Rescue this year have included an alumnus who is now a physician in Plattsburgh, NY, along with some firefighters and paramedics from New Hampshire. She said that after a debriefing session immediately following the drill, the group planned to head for a fun cookout and more relaxed camaraderie at the lake home of former SMFR chief Pete Soons ’82 and his wife, Kate Soons’ 92 (Kate was part of the training this year too).
Said Toddy Farragher, “When I started coming up when my son was a freshman and began watching these students, what amazed and still amazes me is that the leaders are college seniors, fellow students, and yet they all do what they say with complete respect and professionalism. I continue to be impressed every year. I once heard the College president say at a dinner that this is an organization that volunteers 365 days a year/24 hour a day. My son was home just 9 days one year when he was a student, because most of the time he stayed up manning the firehouse. They love it. That’s dedication, and they take care of each other. It’s quite a bond.”