Illinois Firefighters Learn Rescue Techniques

Updated: 01-30-2006 09:51:20 AM

News-Democrat via Knight Ridder

Two firefighters lifted the limp body of a third and hauled him out a window.

On the ladder outside, another firefighter steadied his fellow firefighter's body and carefully lowered him down the ladder to the waiting crew.

It's only an exercise, but for the firefighters at Edwardsville's fire station this weekend, it could be a literal matter of life and death. The training sessions planned for the weekend center on rescues, and are based on real incidents in which firefighters have died.

"Sometimes there's nothing that could have been done, but sometimes there's something that would have made a difference," said Edwardsville Capt. James Whiteford.

The apparatus being used this weekend includes a narrow window and hallway, reproducing a situation in which a Denver firefighter died on the second floor of a burning building. The hallway, only as wide as a small adult's shoulders, was too small for the firefighters outside to maneuver and lift their unconscious partner out of the window. It took nearly two hours to remove him, Whiteford said, and the firefighter died.

So firefighters from Edwardsville, French Village, Roxana, East St. Louis, Rosewood Heights, South Roxana, Wood River, East Alton and other departments will be trained in narrow-hallway rescues, among other things.

"There's a difference between knowing (the rescue procedures) and being proficient at it," Whiteford said. "You can know how to type, but does that mean you can type 300 words per minute? In a fire, you don't have time to think."

Instructor Bill Klossen of the East St. Louis Fire Department drove home the seriousness of the issue to his team. He told them two firefighters in Memphis got their breathing apparatus caught in wiring and died a mere three feet from the building exit.

"The difference between a routine event and a 'mayday' is a couple of simple decisions," Klossen said.

While Klossen's group practiced tangling and untangling their gear from ropes, others practice team maneuvers to lower a firefighter in full gear down a ladder. They work without a net or safety harness, just as they might have to at a fire scene.

During the weekend, Whiteford expected more than 100 area firefighters to receive training, which is offered free from the University of Illinois Fire Institute.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 345-7822, ext. 21.

Belleville News Democrat