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Bedford firefighters Jon Strong, left, and Eric Dubowik help each other gear up, with Goffstown firefighters Chris Couturier and Joe Boucher during a helicopter swift water and flood rescue training at the field on Joppa Hill Road in Bedford on Nov. 15. (SUSAN CLARK/Union Leader Correspondent)

Rescue training puts firefighters in the sky

BEDFORD — A two-day swift water and flood rescue training has prepared some Bedford and Goffstown firefighters in case a disaster should strike the area.

Bedford hosted the training sessions, which included a lecture on Nov. 14 on how to use the equipment, and hands-on maneuvers on Nov. 15 using a tagline to hoist victims onto a hovering helicopter.

The training was part of a New Hampshire Specialized Search and Rescue Team (SART) program, overseen by the state Fish and Game Department. SART members must meet specific physical agility requirements and receive specialized training before conducting search and rescue missions during severe weather hazardous conditions.

Involved in the training were Bedford firefighters, Jon Strong, Michael Jolin and Eric Dubowik, and Ben Selleck, swift water fire training coordinator; Goffstown firefighters Chris Couturier and Joe Boucher; Concord firefighter Brian Saltmarsh; and Fish and Game Sgt. Brad Morse, all assisted by members of the Army National Guard.

"Fish and Game is responsible for search and rescues, but they can't do it alone," said Selleck.

Helicopters can fly about 139 knots or 145 mph, and rescues often occur at higher altitudes.

"This training is at 30 feet, but we prefer to go higher," said Army National Guard Sgt. Christopher Wareing. "If we have a lot of reference points such as trees or houses, we try to do it at 100 feet so the wind doesn't batter the team or our patients."

Part of the Nov. 15 training involved the firefighters learning how to stabilize and hoist a victim, avoid spinning, and maneuvering the tagline to the helicopter, and knowing how to board the aircraft.

"You have to approach it at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock at either doors because the rotor blades will dip to 4 feet 8 inches off the ground," said Strong.

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Gerbig of the Army National Guard also warned the firefighters to, "Watch the tagline because it can get wrapped around your feet."

Bedford has received about $500,000 in swift water and flood rescue equipment and training over the past five years, said Selleck. Teams of 14 rescuers undergo rigorous training in advanced life support, and 120 hours of swift water and flood rescue, and 40 hours of helicopter rescue training.

"Bedford is a type-1 team, the only type-1 team in the Northeast, the closest is Pennsylvania," he said.

The 18-foot closed gear and boat trailers were manufactured in New Boston, Weare and Manchester.

The equipment and trailers can also be used on a daily basis during victim extrications and mutual aid calls.

"It's good utility of equipment. We get our money's worth so it's not just sitting there," Selleck said.

On April 10, Bedford will host a FEMA evaluated, full-scale exercise on the Merrimack River, involving 120 rescuers and 350 victims all extricated in four hours or less.

"It's hard to predict swift water and flood rescues on the ground, and this will give rescue agencies close to real-life experience as possible," he said.

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