Monday, November 24, 2014
   
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Rescue by rope

Fire department buys equipment, trains members.

Etched in Mark Ballmer’s mind is a tragic grain entrapment accident.

When he was in high school, two girls were playing in a grain bin at a farm near Gothenburg.

One became engufled in corn.

At the time, Ballmer was not one of the Gothenburg Volunteer Fire and Rescue team who recovered the body of the young teen who was sucked into the grain and suffocated.

With Gothenburg smack dab in the middle of corn country, grain-handling businesses and storage facilities abound.

That creates more of a chance for grain entrapment accidents to occur, the Gothenburg fire chief said, which is why readiness is so important.

For that reason, the department is beefing up its ability to rescue victims of grain-handling, and other accidents, through rope rescue.

“We want safety for our people involved in the rescue and the opportunity to save someone who’s been engulfed or needs to be recovered,” Ballmer said.

Four grain-handling businesses teamed up to help the department buy $10,000 worth of rope, pulleys, harnesses, straps and other equipment like edge protectors.

Edge protectors are placed on the lips of structures to protect ropes as fire fighters rappel down or haul equipment up.

Contributing businesses were Nebraska Salt & Grain Co., Frito Lay, Horizon Ag and All Points Cooperative.

Another example of when the equipment and training would have been handy is after explosions of an elevator at All Points Cooperative.

Ballmer said a rope rescue team from the Edison Fire Department traveled to Gothenburg to offer rope support.

“That’s where we got the idea,” he said.

Besides rescues and accidents, involving grain, Ballmer said the equipment can also help recovery victims who have fallen in boot pits or deep canyon ravines.

Although the ropes are not designed for water use, assistant rescue chief Mike Wagner said they can be used for ice or water rescues and then discarded.

So far, volunteers from the department have trained in ravines surrounding the trail race by Lake Helen and, last March, practiced rope rescue with trainers from the state fire marshal’s office.

In February, they will meet for a refresher course in knots and pulley systems, followed by an advanced outdoor training session in March.

The fire department also recently bought 14 air packs, 14 air tanks and an air compressor system, totalling more than $80,000.

Ballmer said the money was raised through the annual Fireman’s Ball and from donations and memorials.

Although the air packs are smaller, Ballmer said they hold more air and will help prevent fire fighters from getting fatigued while inside a burning, or smoke-filled area.

Next on the fire department’s wish list is a closed trailer, which could be hitched to a rural fire department truck, that would hold both rope and water rescue equipment.

Wagner estimated the cost of the trailer at $8,000.

Ballmer added that mutual aid calls from towns like Brady and Farnam have increased in recent years as fewer volunteers, especially emergency medical technicians, are available.

That makes versatility of skills, within Gothenburg’s fire and rescue departments, even more important, he said.

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