Residents of Iowa County and surrounding townships can be proud of advancements in emergency response circles in recent years.
Not only has advanced training taken place at various departments across the county, more collaboration is taking place now than ever before by almost all county departments working together through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System.
Another valuable addition in this age of mega-size grain bins and huge farm and mill storage facilities is the newly formed Iowa County Technical Rescue Team, a unit specializing in situations where a farm worker could potentially become trapped and would possibly find themselves sinking in a grain bin — or in any situation where harnesses, ropes and baskets are needed in retrieving victims.
Coinciding with ramped-up training session frequency, expansion of safety programs, the need to learn new techniques and advancements in safety equipment, is the need to raise associated funding.
Safety experts confirm it takes lots of training and plenty of dollars to properly equip emergency response volunteers. A small network of county-wide emergency response members, representing towns and villages all across Iowa County, is planning a major fundraising effort this spring.
The group of fire chiefs, firefighters and EMS members help comprise the Iowa County Emergency Services Association. The group will host a special Sportsman’s Night Fundraiser at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point Sunday, April 7. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. with a social session, a prime rib dinner at 5:30 p.m., and a live auction at 8 p.m.
Rifles, optic supplies, archery equipment, tickets to major college and professional sporting events are all among the various raffle prizes to be included April 7.
Group fundraising chairman Rob Busser said recently that the event will be a typical sportsman’s night-type format and is limited to 204 ticketholders/attendees.
Tickets are $60, including the meal and the main raffle ticket. All proceeds will go to the new rescue team.
The team volunteers raised $8,000 at the Iowa County Fair in September in a fundraiser and have spent that money to purchase four initial personal rescue sets for team members and a new coffer dam. They hope to purchase additional Personal Protective Equipment suits, miles of specialized rescue rope, body harnesses, gas masks, tripods, stokes baskets, gas monitors, webbing, backboards, confined space equipment and more in the near future.
For more information or tickets call Busser, (608) 987-4192, or Mark Gilbertson, (608) 574-8107, or any village fire department chief in Iowa County.
“The money we earn will go toward the Tech Rescue Team (what some call the ‘ropes’ team) this Spring and in future years, funds will go to the emergency services association,” said Hollandale Fire Chief Mark Gilbertson, president of the rescue team.
Tim Haas, Linden fire chief and MABAS Division 124 President, said the group is also applying for grant funds as they try to obtain up to $100,000 for the funds they need to properly outfit rescue unit responders.
Organizing the Technical Rescue Team began at a county meeting in Cobb in September 2011. Gilbertson, a Hollandale dairy farmer, and his son Erik had dropped a piece of metal into a grain storage facility and briefly considered climbing in to retrieve it, but being safety conscious used a magnet to retrieve the metal.
“I asked at the next county meeting if any nearby departments had supplies for extrication or grain engulfment — magnets, ropes, specialized equipment — and of course few departments possessed much of that sort of equipment,” said Gilbertson. “We went farther with it, got a new emergency government director in the person of Keith Hurlbert, had meetings, and he set us up with starting the group association — and we’ve been up and running ever since.
“We’re thankful we haven’t had a call [for a major grain bin rescue], but in the meantime, we’ve had lots of great training [industrial and outside rescue training] and have more confined space training scheduled ahead — when the weather gets good, here in 2013.”
The group wants to expand from its current membership of 23. Members include firefighters from Cobb, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Linden, Hollandale, Ridgeway and Barneveld, as well as EMTs from Dodgeville and Mineral Point.
“We trained 60 hours at ropes — in class and twice at a tower [at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College] and once more off a cliff out at Governor Dodge State Park,” said Gilbertson. The Governor Dodge training “was unique in that we lugged so much equipment in and out in conducting the training. In our next confined spaces training we will do the classroom work in both Mineral Point and Dodgeville and will also soon be selecting a physical training location site.”
Last summer, around two dozen rescue team members became rope rescue technician certified, learning specific techniques for farm extrication and grain bin engulfment.
Gilbertson said fire chiefs and rescue unit leaders across the county “made other changes in recent years — including the transition to having what is now the Iowa County Emergency Services Association — and I give credit to Keith Hurlbert [director of Iowa County Emergency Management] because he had a lot of insight. It led to cooperation among all emergency services.”
Haas said MABAS is “a pre-determined system — the theory is that any time you’re needed there is already a pre-planned response that’s already laid out. Instead of a fire chief being at a structure fire, wondering where he’s going to get resources in the middle of the night, the response scenario is already planned. We’ve already thought about the possibly situations and have pre-role played the response.
“Thus, we’re not stripping any one department of all its resources — and [a chief] will have coverage and can bring assistance to his own department to cover in the case of a subsequent call.”
MABAS was started in Illinois in the 1960s. In Wisconsin, 55 of the 72 counties are now in MABAS divisions.
“We started planning in 2009 and went live in 2010,” said Haas. “Currently, we have 10 departments in the county participating in this program.
“The great thing about it is that it has taken departments that were more or less islands all working together now,” said Chuck Nye of the Cobb Fire Department. “That’s something that never used to happen.”
“When we were changing the name over from the fire chiefs’ association to the Iowa County Emergency Services Association, we made some additional changes,” said Mineral Point Fire Chief Chad Whitford. “When we were going though the MABAS process, we moved ahead with MABAS on the fire end and got it all ready to go. Dodgeville and Brian [Cushman of Dodgeville EMS] jumped in — but there were others being left in the dark and I felt … this doesn’t make sense. We’re one county emergency service — being fire and EMS — and I felt other [EMS] departments should be invited to be involved too. We got everyone [including law enforcement] on one page — and it just makes sense to work together.”
“It takes fire, EMS and police/sheriff’s personnel when we work a scene, so it’s only smart to have all three at the table,” said Nye.
“A lot of that old ‘attitude’ that we can do this [emergency response] ourselves has gone away. Everything is more uniform now and we all know what’s expected. Since we’ve created and combined the association and started this team it has become a lot stronger.”
“With MABAS and the emergency association, we now use common paper forms across multiple departments,” said Haas. “Everybody’s on the same page and are doing things the same way. MABAS opened everybody’s eyes. You don’t need to do things all by yourself. To bring in resources to help is OK.”
“We’ve trained more together in these last couple of years than in the previous 15 years combined,” said Whitford.
The emergency officials agreed that a recent county-wide practice burn exercise was enhanced by including so many participants. Twelve departments and 75 people participated for a joint burn.
“One of the greatest influences of MABAS is that now, if we get called out on a major alarm, we usually leave two engines in our station,” said Whitford. “If we have a double call, now with MABAS involved, our station can be staffed by someone else — we’re never left empty handed. Basically, we just need one guy there that knows our district — just to get [responders from another department] where they’re going. We all do the same thing — it doesn’t matter what color your trucks are. If we’re busy, someone else can assist.”
Cushman and Whitford agree that the advancements mean different volunteers from neighboring or area towns can help at a neighbor’s department, whether it be EMS or fire-related.
“It has evolved,” said Nye. “We have learned when you have a call now and need help, you bring other guys in, things keep rolling along and you don’t have to work your guys until their tongues are hanging out.”
“One call we’ve had [using MABAS] was in Arena and one was in Avoca — those were the two active alarms we’ve had thus far,” said Haas. “We have gone to Boone County, Ill., to assist last May with a large mulch fire — when their local resources were wiped out. We created a strike team — went down [with several tanker trucks] and worked for an eight-hour operation — plus additional travel time.”
The group’s predecessor was the old Iowa County Fire Chiefs Association, a group initiated by men who recognized a need for cooperation in 1981.
“Tom Adams was the first president at the time and he was also chief at Mineral Point at that time,” said Whitford.
Jiggs Lynch was also mentioned as being one of the instrumental individuals in the early years of the association. Whitford said in an earlier era, there used to be more of a rivalry between local fire departments and departments would avoid calling each other for help — a viewpoint current chiefs look back on as being both archaic and unwise.
“And thankfully, Keith [Hurlbert] and Emergency Services has been instrumental in getting our new communication systems in place,” said Gilbertson.
Hurlbert said federal mandates — required radio bandwidth usage changes — greatly influenced public safety.
“Narrowbanding cuts in half the spectrum we’re allowed to use,” he said. “Thus, we saw change coming, we had additional issues with the old system, and we moved forward with trying to find funding for a new system, and were successful.”
Iowa County fire, EMS and law enforcement departments received $753,000 of new radio/communications equipment. Another $1.5 million has been spent on the remainder of the county’s new communication system, including the new tower in Dodgeville.
“Of the $2.23 million expenditure, grants covered $1.523 million and the remaining $700,000 came out of county coffers, monies the county had at the time,” said Hurlbert.
Busser, an Iowa County dispatcher and Mineral Point firefighter, said that often, people don’t realize just how many emergency related calls departments receive each year.
“Last year, in 2012, the Iowa County Communications Center received 19,874 total calls,” he said. “MABAS has helped dispatchers become more uniform in verbiage use and all personnel became more knowledgeable and are better prepared.”
Work also continues on the association and Hurlbert’s quest in putting together a Rapid Intervention Team, a team that sits on the side at an emergency operation site to help in case the on-site rescuers need rescue themselves.
A Hazardous Materials response team might be in the future as well. Currently, local firefighters are the ones often called in to respond to potentially dangerous spills, while in large municipalities, specialized units are more readily available.
“Keith is putting together a HazMat team and we’re looking at doing things this county has never had — or done, previously,” said Whitford.
Hurlbert said organization and development of rescue teams and emergency responders from fire department and EMS units “takes time and money. To have the equipment needed for these guys to perform and to be able to use the training, we need money. The guys for their part, have surely been putting in their time.”
“It’s a big draw and pull on time — with no career departments in the county — everybody’s a volunteer,” said Haas. “The time pull on one’s resources — family, children, work responsibilities — it’s a lot to ask to have guys put in all the night and weekend time for training.”
“Just because it’s a fire being fought by volunteers, it’s not any less dangerous, the car accident any less serious, the hazardous materials spill any less toxic,” said Hurlbert. “These guys still do a lot of the same things anyone is expected to do in a large city or in a large department — that’s the expectation that’s ahead of them. To just have an attitude they are just volunteers is a real disservice to them. These guys are putting in a ton of time to make themselves an effective bunch of people and they are doing a wonderful job.”