HELENA — Fourteen fire departments from across the state gathered at Top Gun Auto Body Shop in Helena this weekend for a First Responder Education Event (F.R.E.E) to demonstrate how to get people safely out of today's advanced vehicles when they're damaged.
Through the National Auto Body Council (NABC), Top Gun Auto Body, and other partners, hosted the first F.R.E.E. in Montana.
"I think it's pretty I think it's pretty important. We don't always get to do extrication all the time," said Lieutenant Connor Davidson from West Valley Volunteer Fire Department and F.R.E.E. attendee.
The training event invited first responders to practice cutting vehicles apart with heavy machinery like the Jaws of Life, provided by Genesis Rescue System tools.
It takes special training and skills to understand how to get around important features of new and advanced vehicles, like high-strength steel, undeployed airbags, and high-voltage electronics.
Davidson was promoted this year and is now one of West Valley's new Lieutenants. He says he'd like to see more of this type of training.
"So this training helps us keep our skills sharp and honed in, and getting that hands-on and, that visual, for where the cut some of those cables, is good. So when I show up, or even Lisa [Bush], she shows up, we know where to start looking," said Davidson.
After a written course, they started to buzz, rip, and claw the cars apart throughout the sunny afternoon.
In mid-July, before the training course, West Valley graduated one of their largest classes in recent years. With reaching around 1,000 9-1-1 calls per year, they're always trying to grow their fire department by gaining more recruits.
This year, they gained 11 new volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders, as well as promoted five highly dedicated firefighters to the rank of lieutenant.
Over 12 weeks, new members received training in all aspects of firefighting and emergency responses, from the basics of just how to wear the gear, to the science of fire behavior inside a structure. At the end of the training for close to three months, they graduate and become a certified firefighter.
Kohl Bonser, who is a recent graduate of West Valley, was able to get his hands on the tools and get a feel for what an operation might be like without it being an actual emergency. Something he says is crucial.
"It's nice having the knowledge to be able to actually do something rather than just stare at an emergency and be like, oh, you can just be a bystander. It's nice that I can actually help people now, but we're still training and there's a lifetime of training ahead," said Bonser.
Ted Culbertson, owner of Top Gun Auto Body helped bring this training to Helena and says it's something he would like to offer to first responders again.
"I think that there's no doubt the more training we can get in and more often with the new evolving cars," said Culbertson, "there is no doubt I'd love to be able to put something together annually for these gentlemen, for sure."
Around fourteen stations signed up for the event.
These were all the fire stations that were in attendance for Montana's F.R.E.E:
- West Valley
- Canyon Creek
- Dearborn FSA
- Broadwater County
- York Volunteer Fire Department
- Wolf Creek
- Lincoln Fire + Rescue