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Have you ever had the experience of witnessing a serious accident? Or have you, a family member, neighbor or close friend been in a bad accident? Whether it’s a serious automobile accident, a house or business fire, medical emergency or crime scene, your world suddenly can be turned upside down.

Try to picture yourself at a serious accident scene. The sirens approach, and the emergency vehicles roll up to the scene. The firemen or women climb down from their trucks. The EMTs position their ambulances and the police or sheriff units get into position to start controlling traffic.

Over all of the activity, you hear a commanding voice starting to shout instructions. It’s the company captain directing the firefighters, paramedics and EMTs to expertly organize the rescue units.

You can see firefighters beginning to move through the tangled vehicles, setting priorities on the rescue and making the tough, quick decisions on who needs help first.

As the scene further unfolds, you feel some relief that the teams working around you are under control and working efficiently to help the folks momentarily trapped in their vehicles.

These men and women — firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and law enforcement first responders — are able to swiftly assemble, maintain their composure and safely and efficiently extricate the victims in an accident scene because of their training and experience.

To keep their skills at peak levels, they benefit from ongoing training, including refresher courses now being provided to first responders from throughout Northwest Indiana at the Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC), located on a 4.5-acre campus in southeast Valparaiso.

The MAAC, in partnership with Indiana District 1 Firefighter Training Council, is positioned to offer cadets as well as experienced first responders ongoing training in a wide range of skills.

To keep firefighting skills fresh with fewer structure fires today, MAAC offers multiple "props," including mock homes, apartments and commercial buildings, including multi-story structures, where trainers are able to simulate smoke-filled structures to keep rescue and hose-handling skills current.

Both a live-burn facility and a flashover facility enable trainers to safely simulate life-like firefighting scenarios. Some of these same structures can be configured in varying floorplans to help train SWAT and drug search teams with canine units.

The overall design of the facility ensures multiple groups of first responders can use the facility at the same time. Officially open less than five months, the facility is operating seven days a week. Men and women from all over the five counties included in District 1 (Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper) are coming together to train and also to share resources.

As firefighters from different departments work together to help build and paint the various props or train in a common rescue drill, the entire Region enjoys the benefit of first responders getting to know each other and respect each other’s skills and abilities. The payoff comes when they find themselves called to the same accident or fire and feel more confident in working with a familiar colleague from a different department.

Micheal Baird is a community leader who serves on a number of boards, including the MAAC (Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative) Foundation. The opinions are the writer's.

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