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Rescue Ready

Just after 7 p.m. on a mid-summer evening, sirens blared at Macomb Correctional Facility. The alert signaled the start of a training exercise designed to help fire crews familiarize themselves with the facility and prepare for a variety of scenarios that can help them act quickly in the event of a real emergency. That evening, 17 paid-on-call fire fighters from the nearby Lenox Township Fire Department were on hand to practice rescue techniques at the facility, which included the simulated rescue of an officer from a gun tower and from the roof of the facility’s warehouse. Local fire departments are invited to train at their area correctional facilities about every three years, but some departments request to train at facilities at shorter intervals, said James Conrad, a regional fire and safety inspector for the MDOC. The trainings give fire departments the opportunity to get to know corrections staff, discuss any specialized needs a facility may have and become familiar with the facility to help ensure they can react quickly and efficiently, Conrad said. The Lenox Township department trains at Macomb Correctional Facility every two years, said Assistant Chief Marty Hartway. Hartway said the trainings help firefighters prepare and build their skills, so they can be ready if they need to respond to an emergency at the correctional facility. “It helps them keep up on their skills, so when there is an actual rescue they’re ready to go,” Hartway said, as he stood on the roof of the facility’s warehouse. “It’s not too often you get rescues like this.” Hartway and a handful of the department’s firefighters were preparing Corrections Officer Chris Budd, who volunteered for the rescue exercise, to be lowered from the roof of the warehouse on a stretcher. Using a web of ropes and harnesses, he would be slowly lowered down the side of the building with a ladder under him to provide stability and guidance in a technique known as a “ladder slide.” Other facilities across the state also host similar trainings, or walk-through tours to help firefighters familiarize themselves with facilities. The Ionia Department of Public Safety tours each of the Ionia-area correctional facilities every other year, and the Marquette Fire Department visits Marquette Branch Prison each year for a familiarization tour. Chippewa, Kinross, Saginaw, and Thumb correctional facilities and the Detroit Detention Center have hosted local fire departments for tours already in the last year. Carson City, Oaks and St. Louis correctional facilities and the Detroit Reentry Center also hosted on-site trainings for fire departments. The trainings are often designed to help firefighters prepare for a variety of scenarios. In September 2015, a large emergency response training was held at Macomb Correctional Facility that included five area fire departments responding to a simulated fires in two locations, including one in the administration building. During that exercise, the administration building was filled with training smoke and some Macomb employees who volunteered to participate had makeup applied to give the appearance of burns and wounds. Firefighters were tasked with rescuing four employees trapped inside the building, and another six from the roof. The next training at Macomb Correctional Facility is expected to simulate the rescue of a wheelchair-bound individual, Conrad said. Warden Randall Haas said the facility has a good relationship with the local fire department and is glad to provide firefighters with the opportunity to train at the prison. “They get experience, so if something were to happen here, they are already trained on responding to our facility,” Haas said. Lenox Township Fire Chief Dennis Fouchia watched and helped direct firefighters as they worked, giving them guidance on how to improve their rescue strategies to ensure mock victims made it to the ground quickly and safely. He said training at the facility gives firefighters valuable experience “It’s realistic,” Fouchia said. “You have to train to be prepared.”