Trench rescues are inherently dangerous and require specialized training to avoid further injury or death — that was the message received loud and clear at the two-day trench training exercise, Oct. 26-27, made possible by a generous donation by Oakdale Irrigation District.
A popular course, only a handful of firefighters from Oakdale Rural, Oakdale City and Stanislaus Consolidated were selected to participate in this rigorous training that was conducted using real trenches and a simulated rescue of a mannequin.
Erich Haidlen from Haidlen Ford donated the use of the back lot on G Street for the exercise.
The top trench rescue instructors in the state, Jim Mendonsa, an instructor with Columbia College and Van Riviere, a captain with Stockton Fire Department, were brought in to teach the group how to safely conduct a rescue under dangerous conditions.
Representatives from Public Works, AL Gilbert and OID were also on scene watching the group perform as all three entities work with open trenches.
“We’re very fortunate to have them,” Oakdale City Fire Captain Tony Miranda said of instructors Mendonsa and Riviere. “There’s a great demand for this type of training. This is the next generation of training. We have a lot of open trenches. We need to get our guys trained to know what to do if there’s an emergency. If we have an event in our area, these are the guys who are going to respond.”
The 16-hour training was so sought after, Miranda had to turn away 10-15 people from assorted agencies because the roster had been filled.
Four 10-feet deep trenches were built and a mannequin was rescued in three; one trench collapsed, exhibiting the very real danger of trenches and why the training is so valuable.
“A square foot of dirt is 100 pounds. It could easily pin you in. Time is of the essence with a trench rescue,” Miranda said.
Even the training itself was dangerous because the team was working with live trenches and anything could happen.
With a trench collapse there’s a 50 percent chance of a secondary collapse, Miranda said.
“You have to make it safe to make the rescue.”
Mendonsa said the impetus of the training came from tragic roots when a trench accident in Northern California took the lives of several people. At the time there were no protocols in place for trench rescue and tragedy ensued.
“There were a small number of people traveling up and down the state for this training,” Mendonsa said.
He added, “It’s unique. It doesn’t happen often but what makes a trench incident so dangerous is a trench doesn’t look threatening. The tendency is to jump down into the trench without the right equipment.”
Another aspect of the training is to identify local resources for the swiftest, most efficient response.
“Knowing what your resources are so you can combine tools,” Mendonsa said. “It’s neat to see so many agencies working together.”