After a year of training, Carroll County's Advanced Tactical Rescue team is now on line to respond to serious accidents.
The team is a response to problems rescue workers encountered last year at sinkhole and trench incidents that killed two men, said Lenny Yox, one of the three firefighters responsible for creating the new team.
"Our intention, if we have a trench or confined space rescue, is to have enough equipment to be able to initiate a rescue with our own people while waiting for additional help," said Mr. Yox, a career firefighter in the Baltimore County Fire Department and a volunteer at Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department.
In the two accidents -- one in which a sinkhole swallowed a van on Route 31 and the other a trench collapse in Sykesville -- Carroll firefighters had to wait for equipment and personnel from the Baltimore County Advanced Cave-in Unit and the Advanced Tactical Unit.
Those fatal accidents, along with several other rescue operations within a short span of time, prompted a group of Carroll County volunteer firefighters to form the ATR team.
The team will "act as a resource for the incident commander on the scene," said Bill Luebberman, retired Baltimore County firefighter and volunteer at Sykesville-Freedom Fire Department.
"It's not our intention to come in and take over. We will just help where they ask us."
There is much potential for serious rescues in Carroll County, Mr. Luebberman said, because of periodic floods, the number of farm silos, quarrying operations, sinkholes, old buildings, construction sites and continued growth.
"As the community grows, the [number of] calls will grow," said Robin Lamb, an ATR member at the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department.
"We're trying to be pro-active," said Mr. Yox. "There are dozens of confined space entries every day -- every time a farmer goes into a silo, every time a worker goes into a tanker to clean it. We don't want to see anybody die."
Team members are excited about their ability to handle such rescues themselves. They point to the satisfaction of helping others, camaraderie among team members, the opportunity to improve their skills and the increased self-confidence the work has given them.
"We have people from 11 companies working as one," said Michael Pappas, a team member at the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department. "Everybody has their own way of doing things, so basically we try to get everyone on the same sheet of music."
The idea for such a rescue team is not new.
"A lot of us, for years, said we should have the beginnings of a rescue team," said Mr. Yox. "So [last year] we went to the Carroll County Fire Chiefs Association and got it sanctioned."
Mr. Yox, with Mr. Luebberman, Craig Austin (a Baltimore County career firefighter and volunteer at Taneytown Volunteer Fire Department) and the Fire Chiefs' Rescue Committee, drafted plans to create a team from all interested fire companies in the county.
Of the 14 volunteer stations in Carroll, 11 submitted the names of firefighters who wanted to join and met the training qualifications.
"To be on the team, [applicants] had to have the minimum firefighter-emergency medical services training, and rescue specialist or advanced rescue training," Mr. Yox said. "They had to be members of a Carroll County fire company and their fire chief had to sponsor them so they'd be covered under workmen's compensation through the county."
Mr. Yox, Mr. Luebberman and Mr. Austin became instructors for the team.
A total of 35 men and one woman applied for the team. After tests to determine whether they could physically handle advanced rescues, two men dropped out.
"They had to do a vertical rappel to see if they were afraid of heights," Mr. Yox said. "They had to be a victim in a confined space . . . to make sure they weren't claustrophobic."
Team members also had to be willing to put up several hundred dollars for personal equipment, such as helmets, ropes, harnesses and gloves, that they carry.
The team began its advanced training in confined space entry and rescue, hazardous materials handling, and trench and swift water rescue last August. Team members also are training for rescues from elevations, building collapses and explosions, and overland rescues from places where access is difficult.
The ATR team gives rescuers a chance to use their creative imaginations, Mr. Luebberman said.
"With fire and medical calls, there are certain steps to take or certain things to do," he said. "With an ATR rescue, it's ever-changing. You have to be creative in rescue -- you can't say, 'I'm going to do X, Y and Z,' because it may not be appropriate."
The team's focus in all of its training is safety, Mr. Yox said. All rescue workers must comply with the federal OSHA regulations during an actual rescue. Training manuals are hundreds of pages thick.
This year, the Carroll County Firemen's Association received $6,480 from the Carroll County government for the ATR team. Half of the money will be used for training and the other half for equipment, Mr. Yox said.
Equipment for confined space and elevated rescues is housed at several stations -- Reese, Mount Airy, Union Bridge and Sykesville -- with rescue squads.
The team has rejected purchasing an ATR truck to house all of the equipment at one site, because there are not enough calls in Carroll County to merit the expenditure. When a major rescue call does occur, the county will continue to ask Baltimore or Montgomery county for help through mutual aid agreements, Mr. Yox said.