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Keene Fire Department Uses Keene State TDS Center to Train

Members of the Keene Fire Department
Members of the Keene Fire Department

The Keene Fire Department was at Keene State College recently – not for a fire or an emergency, but to help prevent one.

Forty-five Keene firefighters took part in two days of training at Keene State’s Technology, Design, and Safety (TDS) Center on May 14 and 16. While the Keene Fire Department has some training facilities in its new station, which opened in October 2012, the TDS Center, which opened its doors a few weeks earlier, has additional apparatus as well as the space to accommodate the firefighters.

According to Keene Deputy Fire Chief Ron Leslie, the TDS facilities, which include the Public Service of New Hampshire Safety Tower devoted to confined space training and fall protection, are ideal for training. “The confined space was a perfect opportunity to take advantage of working a low-frequency event in a controlled atmosphere and environment,” said Leslie, who has been with the department for 34 years. “We usually have to do that training at an off-site location.”

The Keene firefighters spent most of their time training in the confined space simulator. Similar to what fire academies use for training, the simulator, which includes a maze of different shapes and sizes so it can be altered from one drill to the next, is filled with nontoxic smoke so the firefighters can practice working at zero visibility. The firefighters then go through a series of drills, crawling through tight spaces equipped with the air lines and respirators they would use during an actual rescue.

Leslie said the exercise benefits observers, who can watch the drill through the tower’s glass walls, as well as participants. “It’s huge for training,” he said. “You can see what’s going on as an outsider, so when it’s your turn to go through the rotation you pick up key points and factors that will facilitate a quick rescue. It’s both high risk and labor intense. You have the manpower in there, so you have to be familiar with the equipment and the tools. We just don’t get to put our hands on that every day.”

Leslie points out that the TDS Center also allows the department to train multiple shifts at one time and use a facility that needs little clean-up.

Dr. Larry McDonald, a professor and chair of the Safety and Occupational Health program at Keene State, was very impressed with the skill and the teamwork exhibited by the firefighters. “It’s amazing to watch them manipulate around the tunnel, especially when you consider they are blinded by the smoke,” said McDonald who helped arrange the exercise.

Over the years, Keene State and the Keene Fire Department have collaborated on several initiatives. Gary LaFreniere, captain of fire protection, has met regularly with members of the Keene State Safety Committee. Keene State has also recruited several members of the Fire Department to teach classes in the Safety and Occupational Health program; among them is Jeffrey Morel, a retired captain in the KFD who is currently serving as a lecturer. Just recently, the Keene Fire Department sent a paramedic to talk to the athletic trainers at the College about the department’s new protocol concerning spinal immobilization.

McDonald said the Keene firefighters have agreed to come back so students can observe their training. “We had some students here, but we want to do it again in the fall when we have all of our students here,” he said.

“Students would definitely benefit by seeing this exercise,” said Leslie. “They are going to be taught the requirements whether they are going to be an inspector or have a related job. Very few of them in their lifetime are going to see a rescue or recovery operation, and if they can see what we need to do to make that happen, I think they may appreciate it and probably take a confined space entry a little more seriously.”

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