By Ronda Scholting
Firefighters with West Metro Fire Rescue have been helping out on wildfires all across the state this summer. And, while many crews have been working on the fire line, or protecting homes and structures, one crew has not. Their mission, if needed, has been to rescue injured firefighters.
Known as Rapid Extraction/Extrication Module Support (REMS), the team is trained in technical rope rescue and wildland firefighting. Many wildland fires occur in areas of steep and potentially dangerous terrain; and firefighters, who also battle heat and smoke, have to work in those conditions. If a firefighter would be injured, getting that person out and to a hospital quickly can be a challenge.
“We carry advanced life support medical equipment and we have paramedics on the REMS team, so we can get emergency medical care to the injured firefighter,” said Captain Brendan Finnegan, West Metro Fire Rescue. “Then, just like any medical call, we would get them to a hospital, especially if their injuries are severe. That’s where our rope rescue expertise comes in.”
The REMS concept was originally developed in California, and there are four REMS teams in the Rocky Mountain region. The West Metro team is comprised of 25 firefighters, with a team of four typically assigned on any one fire.
A REMS team is like a rapid intervention team (RIT), which has existed for years in the structural firefighting world. RIT teams are assigned to be on standby, in case a firefighter becomes lost, trapped or injured inside a building. REMS takes that concept outside to the wildland world.
The West Metro REMS team went on line in early June and so far this summer, they have been assigned to the 416 Fire near Durango, and the Spring Fire, near Walsenburg. At both fires, firefighter safety was a top concern.
“Wildland firefighting is inherently dangerous, we’ve seen that over the past few years in the number of causalities,” said Finnegan. “The REMS concept is part of the overall incident safety net, keeping firefighter wellbeing top of mind while at the same time, keeping the public safe.”
When the team is assigned or “deployed” to a fire, all members agree to 14 days of work on scene. While at a fire, a key part of what they do is risk assessment. Team members often hike in or get an aerial view from a helicopter of sections of the fire to determine potential hazards.
“While this team is focused on firefighter safety,” said Finnegan, “all of the training we do translates to serving the West Metro district.”
Ronda Scholting is West Metro Fire Rescue’s Communications/Media Relations Specialist.