Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Russell Berry, a firefighter with the Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department, pulls on a rope during a technical rescue training course as part of the Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference on the Natchez Bluff Saturday afternoon. During this drill, firefighters  pull on a rope connected to a dynamometer, which measures the amount of weight they can pull or lift in a rescue scenario.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Russell Berry, a firefighter with the Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department, pulls on a rope during a technical rescue training course as part of the Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference on the Natchez Bluff Saturday afternoon. During this drill, firefighters pull on a rope connected to a dynamometer, which measures the amount of weight they can pull or lift in a rescue scenario.

Firefighters get hands-on training at Natchez Bluff

Published 12:11am Sunday, June 2, 2013

NATCHEZ — When Ora Smith went over the edge of the Natchez Bluff Saturday afternoon she had only one thought — “Oh God.”

But after that one thought, Smith relaxed and trusted her training, and was able to rappel without any problem down the face of the bluff.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ora Smith, right, a firefighter with the Center Ridge Fire Department, pulls on a rope while Mississippi State Fire Academy instructor Russell McCullar checks the readout on a dynamometer during a technical rescue training course as part of the Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference on the Natchez bluffs on Saturday afternoon. During this drill, firefighters would pull on a rope connected to the dynamometer, which would measure the amount of weight they could pull or lift in a rescue scenario.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ora Smith, right, a firefighter with the Center Ridge Fire Department, pulls on a rope while Mississippi State Fire Academy instructor Russell McCullar checks the readout on a dynamometer during a technical rescue training course as part of the Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference on the Natchez bluffs on Saturday afternoon. During this drill, firefighters would pull on a rope connected to the dynamometer, which would measure the amount of weight they could pull or lift in a rescue scenario.

A firefighter with the Center Ridge Fire Department in Lauderdale County, Smith was part of a group of firefighters doing hands-on training as part of the 76th annual Mississippi Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference, which has been at the Natchez Convention Center since Thursday.

“Rappelling down the bluff was a calm, surreal, almost soothing experience once you learn to trust the team you have and trust your equipment — and ultimately trust in God,” Smith said.

During the rappelling exercise, the firefighters practiced scaling the wall and doing a haul rescue using an Arizona vortex bipod.

“If we are raising somebody from below, we don’t want to pull them right over the edge, so we use this to get a higher anchor point,” instructor Hayes Nix with the Mississippi Fire Academy said.

Fire instructor Chad Ponder said the bluffs location was chosen for the exercise after speaking with local fire officials.

While rappelling rescues are not often needed in Mississippi, it’s good for firefighters to have such training, Ponder said.

But before the firefighters ever trusted themselves to their safety ropes and their teammates, they first did several technical training exercises, including one in which the team had to use a safety rope to catch a heavy load after their main haul rope broke.

“Our goal is to work for no rope failure,” instructor Russell McCullar of Brandon said said. “This is a 9,000-pound (test) rope — if it fails, it is likely human error.”

The conference will end today with a non-denominational worship service and a closing meeting.