On a drizzly Thursday morning at the Export Grain Terminal at the Port of Longview, local firefighters scrambled up the 100-foot ladder on a brand-new truck, practiced lowering injured victims to safety and simulated hidden brush fires.
The annual training day was a chance for Longview and Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue firefighters to train for a potential disaster at the grain terminal — and to become more familiar with Longview’s new $1.1 million ladder truck.
“All incidents have unique hazards,” Longview Battalion Chief Troy Buzalsky said. “Grain creates a lot of dust, which is incredibly explosive. All it takes is a spark and you can have an event every bit as catastrophic as a flammable liquid explosion. So we need to stay up on our training. It’s rare, but that’s why we prepare.”
All industrial and port facilities outside of city limits contract for emergency service, and the two fire agencies jointly respond.
EGT Operations Manager Matthew Kerrigan said the training also helps the company ensure its safety features are marked correctly.
“It’s nice for our crew and their crew to work together so we are prepared, should an unfortunate event happen. We do appreciate that cooperation,” he said.
This year, the departments also used the time to learn the quirks and features on the new ladder truck Longview purchased this year. The city issued 20-year bonds for the truck and other capital purchases, City Manager Kurt Sacha said Thursday.
Compared to the fire department’s 20-year-old bucket truck, the ladder extends faster and the controls are more sensitive, Buzalsky said.
Once the ladder is extended, the firefighters still have to race up it with all of their equipment, but Cowlitz 2 firefighter Erik Dearth said it is helpful to have a ladder that is deployed quickly.
“It’s lightning fast. When you’re talking about taking someone to the hospital, minutes count,” he said.
During the training, firefighters extended the ladder to a 65-foot-high window and latched an “injured” dummy in a gurney to be lowered to safety. A firefighter accompanied the victim, feet dangling in the air, as the ladder retracted.
The Longview Fire Department had previously used a bucket truck, which means firefighters will have to get to used to carrying all their equipment up the ladder instead of being lifted into the air.
“I think everyone is used to the bucket truck,” Longview firefighter Mike Lewis said. “You can’t discount the impact of carrying up your own equipment.”
The city plans to keep the bucket truck in reserve, Sacha said.
While Longview typically needs to deploy aerial features roughly 10 times a year, the truck will be staffed 24/7 and will respond to a variety of other calls, Battalion Chief Blake Tomlinson said.
“A city like Longview with an industrial base and port facilities, the potential to access elevated locations requires us to have a ladder truck,” Tomlinson said. “That doesn’t mean we’re deploying it every day, but we need to have that ability to, especially when the next ladder truck is easily 45 minutes to an hour (away).”
And there are more elevated locations in the area than some people realize, Tomlinson said, including the industrial sites, the hospital and Campus Towers.
The ladder truck also has a 500-gallon tank of water, which is enough to last about 3 minutes during a house fire before they would need to use a fire hydrant, Buzalsky said.
To practice communication, the firefighters set up cones representing fires behind a mound to create a blind target. A firefighter at the end of the ladder directed colleagues down below where to direct the water stream.
“It’s great to do joint training,” Cowlitz 2 Lt. Bryan Ditterick said. “We get to look at their equipment and they can look at ours: We don’t have aerials but we have brush rigs. They have different capabilities. Knowing what we each have helps us work better as a team.”
Ditterick said agencies sometimes have friendly competition, but they need each other.
“We’re here for the public. Whether it’s we go and help them or they go and help us, we’re all in this together.”