WAIMEA — The Waimea Fire Department responds to an average of six car crashes per month. Most are minor collisions, but at least one is serious.
Nineteen recruits in Hawaii Island’s 46th firemen training class learned the tricks of the trade at a session Thursday at Waimea Fire Station.
The training focused on airbags, vehicle stabilization, a modified dash roll from a head-on collision and various door removal techniques. There was also hands-on training to peel one whole side of a car open and to remove an entire roof.
Students undergo firefighter training for six months before moving on to emergency medical technician training for another six months. Recruits are often drawn to the profession through word of mouth.
“It’s a good paying job with job security and good benefits,” said Captain Bergin of Waimea Fire Station, who joined the rescue team 24 years ago. “It also has retirement and health insurance benefits — hard to find in Hawaii. Often people are waiting to get in.”
Usually, two to five of the recruits drop out before the end of the year-long training.
“It’s physically and academically demanding,” Captain Bergin said. “If they get less than 80 percent right on two or more quizzes or exams, they’re out.”
Kar Tow Kohala brought three demolished cars to the fire station Thursday for cutting up and stabilizing practice.
“We get these cars all the time, some don’t get paid for, some are abandoned,” Destin Baquiring said, a Kar Tow Kohala driver. “So instead of just throwing them away, we decided to turn them into something more beneficial for the community.”
European cars, made with harder steel, are more difficult to cut into.
“Now that they’re making cars stronger, the new Two Jaws of Life cutting tools donated recently by the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation helps cut down on time,” Captain Bergin said. “They can cut through the reinforcements across the dash and through the doors.”
Lono Lindsey, a recruit training officer based in Hilo, taught the students a variety of techniques to get victims out of cars fastest at a crash scene.
“The hands-on, skills portion is so important, having the repetitions, using the tools and also seeing different vehicles,” he said. “Although there will be similarities at crashes, there are differences. For this drill, we flipped one car over and one on its side, with the third upright, giving them practice on different profiles. It’s good to have experience before they graduate from recruit class and go on site.”
A best-case scenario would be to get a passenger out of a car crash within 10 minutes.
“That gives us a window in which to load the patient to get them to the hospital the quickest,” Lindsey said. “If it’s a traumatic event and they need surgical care or to get to the OR, time is critical. Ten minutes is our goal, but it’s not always possible, depending on the type of accident. Sometimes they’ll be on an embankment or upside down — all variables that can factor in.”
One of the 19 recruits lives in Waimea.
“Growing up, my grandmother had strokes and my brother had seizures. The fire department took care of my family like their own family, and I’ve always wanted to be able to do that for other members of the community,” Bronson Kobayashi said. “The training is awesome. It’s difficult but I learn something new every day.”
Leia’ala Hall, the only female recruit, was previously a teacher.
“I had wanted to become a paramedic when I was living in Honolulu, but for the last couple years I was commuting as a teacher from Hilo to Kona and came across several accidents,” she said. “I was always there right after it happened and before first responders came, but I was only trained in first aid. I wished I could do more, so I’m here so I can be prepared whether on duty or off.”