Fire department hones skills

Published 10:51 am Monday, February 10, 2014

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On a cold, damp night in the Vicksburg National Military Park, specks of light could be seen last week criss-crossing muddy hills and scouring wooded areas.

Those lights belonged to 21 Warren County and two Rankin County first responders receiving their certification in Overland Search and Rescue.

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The training, which was led by Rankin County Emergency Operations members, is designed to give emergency personnel the knowledge and skills needed to find a lost or injured person. It spanned three days, two of which were spent in the classroom learning the techniques and technology and one day of practical exercise.

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The students teamed up in groups of about five and used a GPS to scour the woods, searching across several miles of rough terrain in the dark of night for designated points given to them in latitude/longitude format.

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The difficulty of the course was designed to challenge the students and make the training as close as possible to a real world scenario they might encounter in the future, said Vicksburg Fire Department EMS training officer Cheyenne Becklehimer.

“It’s exactly what we’ll be dealing with in Vicksburg,” Vicksburg firefighter Allen Pugh, who participated in the course, said. “You’ve got wet, muddy terrain, going over big hills and down deep hollows.”

Becklehimer began planning the training two months ago when the need for search and rescue certified people was identified in the department. Warren County does not have a dedicated search and rescue team, and in the event of an incident they would have to rely on outside resources to head a search.

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This training was the first of its kind the VFD has taken part in, Becklehimer said, and he hopes to ultimately be able to help field a joint team of responders from the sheriff’s office, fire department and emergency management.

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“It was good for everybody to do some joint training,” Pugh said. “It’s ultimately who we’re going to be working with in the field.”

Pugh agreed with Becklehimer about the need for OSAR training and practical training.

“In the event we do have some kind of search and rescue situation, we’ll be more proficient,” Pugh said. “We won’t have to rely on outside sources.”

“The goal is for these guys to feel comfortable if they’re put in that situation without endangering themselves,” Beckelhimer said. “I think it was most definitely a success.”

Another OSAR class is scheduled to take place in April, and the department plans to continue to expand on their ability to serve the people of Warren County.