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Bellingham Firefighters Undergo Machine Entrapment Training

May 01, 2015 06:21AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey
written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Staff Writer

Bellingham’s Fire Department took a proactive approach when the opportunity arose to get specialized training dealing with machinery entrapments, which involve situations like basic ring removal, a person with his arm stuck in a snow blower or a person fully entrapped in agricultural equipment.

The department’s 28 firefighters, including Fire Chief Steve Gentile and Deputy Chief Mark Poirier, participated in an eight-hour mandatory training session at the fire station on April 13. The four instructors included two firefighters from the New York City Fire Department (John Tew and Mike Meyer), one from Worcester (Paul LaRochelle) and the other from Brookline (Paul Trahon). The morning sessions included a slide presentation and a safety seminar. The rest of the day was spent on practical instruction with firefighters divided into six groups performing rescue techniques.

The machinery and materials for the training included snowblowers, meat grinders, an automobile, expanding foam and rings.

“All of the instructors are professional firefighters,” said Poirier, who helped coordinate the event. “The training wasn’t just hands-on; it also focused on thinking ahead. If first responders aren’t prepared for their next move, then someone could be injured more seriously. What was great about the training was that our personnel did all the rescues and extrications. The instructors strictly guided them.”

The program allowed local firefighters to use various hand and power tools in scenarios ranging from limb entrapments to crushed injuries to impalements. The instructors, who all have more than 20 years of experience in these types of rescues, guided the “students” through the necessary steps.

One of the “students,” Captain Steven Reilly of the Woonsocket Fire Department, was grateful to Gentile for inviting him. Because of tight budgets in Woonsocket, Reilly was able to get this instruction through Bellingham’s invitation. “I’m director of training for our department and I was able to learn valuable techniques,” said Reilly, a former Bellingham resident who worked for four years in the Bellingham Fire Department. “I’ll now be able to instruct firefighters in Woonsocket on these types of rescues.”

Reilly liked the hands-on approach that the instructors used. “It’s a matter of showing us and letting us do the rescue,” Reilly noted. “If we see it and do it, then we retain it. Seeing rescues dealing with entrapments and impalements was very beneficial.”

Brad Kwatcher, who’s been a Bellingham firefighter for 2 1/2 years after working for eight years for the Blackstone Fire Department, labeled the instruction as “stuff that really happens.”
Kwatcher, who played a role in having the instructors come to Bellingham, liked the way the training prepares first responders to react. “We learned structure, so when someone gets his hand caught in a meat grinder, you’re taught how to handle it,” Kwatcher said. “You treat the person, then take apart the grinder or cut it. Then you transport the patient to a hospital.”
Kwatcher called Tew, who served as the lead instructor, “an elite firefighter.” Tew works on rescues in Queens. “To be on that team, you’re like a Green Beret or a Special Forces guy,” Kwatcher emphasized.

Last year, Tew conducted 90 seminars on entrapment rescues across the country and in Canada. He liked how Bellingham’s firefighters absorbed their instruction. “I saw a lot of professionalism,” he said. “For a small-town fire department, their pride and dedication was off the charts. It didn’t matter if one guy had a lot of experience and another didn’t. They all showed passion and they all wanted to learn as much as possible.”

Tew said his “students” were awed by rescues dealing with fence impalements and extricating a body from under a car. “Bellingham residents should be proud of their department and the command staff for wanting to provide specialized training,” Tew said. “Their interest is in making their department better.”

Trahon said, “It’s easy to teach when your students are engaged.” He liked the interaction and the questions Bellingham’s firefighters asked. “Their questions enabled me to learn some things,” Trahon said.

Lieutenant Chris Mach, who has 28 years of experience with the Bellingham department, called the training “excellent because it involves situations we don’t see very often.” Mach said that car accidents are common, “but extricating someone from a machine is something we don’t see on a regular basis.”

Not all fire departments in the country are well-versed in entrapment rescues; but, as Gentile noted, “We have a lot of machine shops in Bellingham. There definitely is a potential need for this type of rescue.”

Gentile, who’s been Bellingham’s Fire Chief for three years, recalled an incident at a firm on Depot Street that involved machine entrapment more than 20 years ago. “A worker got his arm caught in a machine,” Gentile recalled. “We didn’t have the expertise to get his arm out quickly, so we called in a med-flight helicopter and insisted that a doctor be on board. It would have taken too much time for us to separate the worker from the machine. Back then, I realized that we needed better knowledge of how to proceed with this kind of rescue.”

Last year, Gentile lobbied for a budget that included funding for training. When he got the green light, he then proceeded to ask Poirier and Captain Joe Robidoux to find a program that would focus on making his department better in a specific area. Poirier and Robidoux didn’t disappoint the chief. They discovered that Kwatcher knew about a program dealing with entrapment rescues.

“Brad has done paramedic training in New York, and he knows some of the firefighters on the New York department,” Poirier said. “Brad told us he knew of a class that’s taught by New York firefighters dealing with entrapments. He gave us the contact info, we reached Mark Gregory, a captain on the New York Fire Department who’s an instructor, and arrangements were made.”
Gentile emphasized the importance of the training, noting that “our goal is to expedite rescues where someone is so badly entangled.” He also said that he needs the training because “as chief, I can’t direct my men if I don’t know what to do.”

Gentile and Poirier also indicated that entanglement rescues can be very complex. They noted that situations could be two-pronged— paramedics working on an injured victim while firefighters work simultaneously on extrication.

Poirier said the department was grateful for taxpayer support in funding the program, and he also cited businesses for donating equipment. They included Home Depot, Walmart, Town Line Power Equipment, Bellingham Parts Plus, Blue Linx, Bellingham Lumber and Market Basket.
Gentile said he was pleased that his entire staff was on hand and that “townspeople should feel more comfortable now that we’re better educated on entrapment rescues.”
Poirier summed up the day-long exercise by saying, “We’re better trained today than we were yesterday.”
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