MCFR Rehab Unit helps firefighters stay safe

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By The Staff

You know what it’s like to play or work hard outside on a hot summer day. You sweat, you get thirsty and you may take breaks in the air conditioning to get cool. Now, take that hot summer day and add a fire that can reach temperatures of 500 degrees. Next, add 70-80 pounds of equipment and insulated bunker gear. Now, run into that fire, wearing the bunker gear, and find the only place to get cool is outside the fire in the nearly 100 degree summer temperatures. Working in a busy county with a lengthy summer season, Marion County Fire Rescue firefighters know this feeling all too well.

But heat exhaustion and dehydration are nearly as dangerous to firefighters as the flames and smoke.

Because firefighters can’t help others if they can’t stay safe themselves, Capt. Joe Amigliore, district captain in southwest Marion County, and a dedicated group of volunteer firefighters from MCFR Friendship Station 21 began creating a “rehab unit.”

“We had budget cuts working against us,” said Gerry Stroh, a volunteer captain at Station 21. “We had to be creative to keep costs low.”

Captain Amigliore and the volunteers resurrected a small non-transport rescue that had been out of service since the ambulance service transition and took other items not being used, such as chairs and coolers, from MCFR stations and buildings. With the small budget they received from the county, they purchased two pop-up canopies, two tables and a mist fan.

But the truck is only one part of the rehab unit. The truck also tows the “air trailer,” a trailer that holds six full air bottles to refill firefighters’ air packs, a self-contained compressor and a mobile air filler station to fill empty air bottles.

“On large fires or extended operations, firefighters can go through a lot of air bottles,” Stroh said. “With the air trailer on scene, we have extras and can fill bottles as they become empty.”

The rehab unit was completed and officially ready for dispatch from Station 21 on June 19. The truck, in addition to towing the air trailer, carries 11 full air bottles, two five-gallon coolers, a mist fan, two tables, two canopies, a generator, scene lights, meals ready to eat (MREs), water, sports drinks, cups and towels. On a smaller incident, the volunteers may only set up a table and distribute cold water. On a large incident, more volunteers may respond and set up the entire rehab area, provide plenty of fluids and a place to recuperate, while other volunteers refill air bottles.

“The rehab unit isn’t dispatched to every call,” Amigliore said. “It can be dispatched countywide based on two determinations: type of incident and weather conditions.”

If the call is for a large or heavily-involved structure fire, a wildfire or an extended hazmat or technical rescue operation, the incident commander on scene will have the rehab unit dispatched if he or she deems it necessary. If the heat index is more than 100 degrees, the rehab unit will be included in the initial dispatch.

“This rehab unit is a valuable resource to improve firefighter safety on scene and a great collaboration between the volunteer and career firefighters,” Amigliore said. “The MCFR Friendship Station 21 volunteers keep the rehab unit stocked with towels, sports drinks and cups.”

While MCFR has 546 professional career firefighters, it’s fortunate to have a dedicated force of volunteers who assist with a variety of services. The recently relocated and rebuilt MCFR Friendship Station 21 houses both 13 volunteer firefighters and 18 career firefighters (six per 24-hour shift). 

MCFR District Captain Clifford Grier has served the Friendship area for the last eight years. He can be reached at Clifford.Grier @marioncountyfl.org or (352) 291-8000.