LAWRENCEVILLE - Saving lives is hard work.
About 20 firefighters from West Virginia's Northern Panhandle were reminded of that during a training session Sunday at the Lawrenceville station on Pyramus Road. Sometimes it takes pushing and pulling, and cutting and prying to get twisted metal out of the way to reach victims in a vehicle crash.
"Work smarter, not harder," Brian Cunningham of Newell Volunteer Fire Department told firefighters as they used a large pry bar and the Jaws of Life to remove the roof from a "crashed" and "overturned" minivan.
Firefighters Chris Waide of Chester and Lloyd Latshaw of Colliers worked together Sunday to operate the Jaws of Life during a training session at the Lawrenceville station. Watching the action were Chester firefighters Dante Dijirolanio (left) and Jason Lively, training officer. About 20 Northern Panhandle firefighters participated. (Photo by Nancy Tullis)
Cunningham said it's important for firefighters from different departments to train together and become familiar with the different types of equipment each department has. Even a similar piece of equipment will have some variations due to being manufactured by different companies, he noted.
Since volunteer firefighters can often respond to an emergency by going directly to a scene, they may be the first on the scene or the first from their department, Cunningham explained. He told of a couple situations when that happened to him, and he just had to "jump in" and help even before he had any of his turnout gear available.
Participating were Hancock County firefighters from Lawrenceville, Chester, Newell, New Manchester, New Cumberland, and firefighters from Bethany and Colliers departments in Brooke County.
Firefighters worked in teams to practice dealing with different types of vehicles in different positions after a "crash." One car was on its roof. A minivan was on its side.
A blue Mercury with a sunroof was on its wheels and looked to be in fair shape before firefighters began working on it. After several minutes of work with the Jaws of Life and a pry bar, one team peeled back the car's roof from front to rear until it cleared the rear seats.
"It's still a good car. It's just a convertible now," one firefighter deadpanned.
Although some good-natured ribbing and horseplay was evidence of the camaraderie among area firefighters who often respond together in emergencies, the training was serious business - getting comfortable with equipment so procedures are second nature during an emergency.
Cunningham told the firefighters that training is important because proficiency in using fire equipment in an emergency comes with repeated practice.
Wade's Auto Salvage in Newell, Six Recycling in East Liverpool, and Chaney's Service Station in Chester donated several vehicles the firefighters used for the practice sessions.
"We're fortunate here to have several places that will give us junk vehicles," Cunningham told the firefighters. "You need to have those so you can practice. It's important. If you can't find any, give me a call. I'll help you find some."
Lt. Bill Blinn of Chester said practice during training sessions is needed so firefighters' response time, decision making, and skill at using equipment are primed and ready when seconds count in a life-or-death situation.
"When there's an accident, you have to know what to do," Blinn said. "You don't have time to play around."
Instructors had firefighters work throughout the morning on the different situations they might face in responding to a crash. After lunch they planned to cut into two more donated vehicles, both of them vans.
They also hoped to be able to set fire to one of the vehicles so they could practice using foam for fire suppression.