New fire chief keeps training innovative
When he got the call, Greg LeRow knew he was in for a long night.
He was dispatched May 9 to a backyard fire in the 2200 block of Church Street.
As he bunkered up with the other volunteers in the Eudora City Fire Department, he put on the white helmet.
It meant he was in charge. He had to coordinate the firefighters in waves to make sure they were safe and rested. He was responsible for finding enough water to keep the fire attack tight.
When he arrived, he found a note: "You've just located the home owner's pet monkey. Please treat it as any victim found in a fire."
He sent firefighters to find the monkey. After emergency aid, including chest compressions, the crew saved the stuffed animal.
"It's stressful, but it's fun," LeRow said.
Eudora City Fire Chief Randy Ates wrote the note and designed the training exercise.
He also chose LeRow as the incident commander.
"It was kind of sprung on him," Ates said.
The fire was imaginary ---- the volunteers practiced in a field just north of Eudora High School ---- but the lesson reflected a truth in firefighting, Ates said.
"Everybody is stuck in the roles they're used too," Ates said.
With a volunteer fire department, a time may come when certain expertise just isn't available, Ates said. They have to be prepared to take over any necessary role during a real fire, he said.
The firefighters treated the field as if it were a real house fire. The monkey wasn't the only contrived complication.
As they sprayed water and cased the scene, LeRow received word of an injured officer.
Later, the firefighters had to overcome a limited water supply, Ates said.
The department also faced a real complication in the form of a stuck pump valve, Ates said.
The firefighters discovered it after using the water cannon on top of the engine, Ates said.
Deputy Chief Mike Underwood served as dispatch during the incident.
"This is a good teaching tool," Underwood said.
The imaginary house fire is just one of unconventional training tools Ates designed for the department.
In March, he had his firefighters play a game of soccer while wearing 12-pound air packs.
Last month, the officers spread throughout Eudora on a scavenger hunt.
"It's good to keep us fresh on our skills," volunteer firefighter Damon Bradley said. "He comes up with a lot of creative ideas."
After the firefighters finished the imaginary incident, Ates called the training a success.
"Each member should be comfortable with all the duties on the fire scene, including stepping into a chief officer's shoes," Ates said in a written brief afterward.
LeRow also felt positive about the experience, he said.
"I just learn how to deal with command and how to improve my firefighting abilities," LeRow said.
After watching the firefighters pack up, Ates' mind was already on the future.
"We need to find an old house somewhere where we can practice this for real," he said.