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Vidalia Fire Department flies fast in rope courses

Submitted photo — A Vidalia Fire Department official prepares to repel during a rope rescue course taught by the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute.

Submitted photo — A Vidalia Fire Department official prepares to rappel during a rope rescue course taught by the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute.

VIDALIA — The Vidalia Fire Department is ramping up its training regimen.

The fire department spent last week swinging through the skies as a part of a rope rescue course taught by the LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute. The training is critical because the department hasn’t received rope rescue training in 10 years, Assistant Fire Chief Doug Honeycutt said.

“We have lots of young guys that have come in the last 10 years, which means they haven’t had the chance to take the ropes course,” Honeycutt said. “Firefighters are first responders, and because of that, it’s useful to have as many skills as possible. We may not need to use the training on an average day, but if there is ever an emergency on the bridge, we would be able to handle the situation.”

An anonymous donor paid for this year’s training, but Honeycutt said he was unaware of the size of the donation.

The rope rescue course taught Vidalia firefighters how to properly rappel from a tall structure, how to create a pulley system and how to create a zip line.

Firefighters were also required to take a written test, in addition to hands-on training, before receiving certification.

Firefighter El’derrious King joined the Vidalia Fire Department slightly more than one year ago. King said rappelling from a tower and setting up pulley systems was an informative, but enjoyable experience.

“I thought it was especially interesting because I have never had a chance to rappel,” King said. “I think I did pretty well. I think I’d have to give myself an A on the training.”

Instructor Don Hedrick told a story about an instance where he put the training into practice while working as an assistant chief for the Greenville, S.C., Fire Department.

“An operator for a tower crane at the hospital had a heart attack,” Hedrick said. “We had to climb up the crane and lower the operator down onto the ground.”

Water towers and industrial buildings are the most practical application of the rope rescue training in Vidalia, Hedrick said.

The department’s training doesn’t stop with a rope course. On Aug. 26, instructors from LSU will teach the department about trench and confined-space rescues.

Honeycutt said the training would include raising victims out of small spaces and stabilizing a collapsing structure to perform a rescue.

The two weeks of training are part of a larger effort by the Vidalia Fire Department to lower its rating before being evaluated next year.

Departments are rated on a scale from one to 10, based on factors such as the quality of the department, availability of water and quality of the dispatching service.

A good fire rating, in turn, lowers insurance rates for Vidalia residents, Honeycutt said.

One is the best rating a department can receive. The Vidalia Fire Department’s current rating is three, but Honeycutt said he is aiming continually lower the rating.

“The training is the first step in a process,” he said. “It would be tough for a town that’s Vidalia’s size, but our goal is to have a rating of one.”

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