By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE - In hard hats and harnesses, dozens of firefighters dropped under the Falls Bridge to rescue an injured worker at the Lawrence Hydroelectric Plant. The next day, the same team of firefighters rescued a trapped worker inside the plant.
It’s hard core training and in both scenarios - nobody was really hurt.
But month after month, courtesy of Homeland Security grants, firefighters on the Essex County Technical Rescue Team, run through a variety of rescue simulations - such as they did last week at the hydroelectric plant - to keep their skills sharp.
Firefighters on the team train to rescue people from some tough and jagged territories, including steep inclines, trenches, collapsed buildings and more.
The firefighters use both “live victims,” other firefighters, and “we also have rescue mannequins,” said team director Eric Pepper, a North Reading fire captain.
“The skills are very perishable,” Pepper said, noting the team has two training drills per month to stay sharp.
The roots of the rescue team trace back to 2007, when county fire chiefs realized that due to the declining economy and budget constraints, technical rescue expertise was dwindling in individual departments.
The Essex County Fire Chiefs Association pitched a county-wide approach and three years later, the county technical rescue team went live.
And talk about baptism by fire. In October 2010, the team had it’s first deployment. A skydiver’s parachute got stuck in a tree, leaving the skydiver, Andrew Stack of Pelham, N.H., dangling 75 feet above ground. Firefighters put up ladders around the tree and used a rope system to lower Stack to safety.
In June 2012, the team, which has grown now to 50 human members and two dogs, had another dramatic rescue in Lawrence. They rescued a man who had climbed out on a substructure on the train bridge near the Great Stone Dam. Edward Santiago, who’d gone onto the bridge to save another man, got scared and stuck on the bridge.
Firefighters again used a rope system, lowering firefighters to Santiago and bringing everyone to safety.
Last Monday, at the hyrdroelectric plant, the team trained to rescue an injured worker who was at the bottom of an outdoor staircase. In the simulation, the worker is too hurt to get up the stairwell and team had to rescue him, Pepper said.
When they can, Pepper said the team also trains with professional companies that specialize in technical rescue and equipment.
While the team is relatively new, and always trying to improve, Pepper said it’s important “people know that while we are not based in individual communities, that we are out there.”
“That these communities are taking an active role to make sure they are protected,” Pepper added.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.