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Preparing during a pandemic

Tim Croft
The Star

As a major wildfire fire off Basswood Road in Port St. Joe demonstrated so vividly last Saturday, a pandemic offers to no pause preparation for a disaster.

Every fire chief in the county, COVID-19 or not, remains responsible for maintaining the readiness of the various all-volunteer roster of firefighters.

Nonetheless, a novel virus is bringing novel procedures to training and response, said Vince Bishop, Chief of South Gulf County Volunteer Fire and Rescue.

“We have set specific rules and guidelines during these times concerning responding to incidents and training,” Bishop said. “We must protect our first-responders.”

Training complies with CDC guidelines regarding safe distancing and the number of members of the force that can gather for any one training exercise.

Last Saturday, the training involved extrication, specifically the use of the Jaws of Life.

“These are heavy pieces of equipment and regular practice is necessary to operate these tools safely,” said Mike Barrett, Assistant Chief of South Gulf County Volunteer Fire and Rescue.

The training included the proper maintenance of the equipment, maintaining safety at the scene of an accident or other incident, stabilization of the tools and a bit of hands-on work with the tools.

“It was a great exercise learning how to handle extrication equipment,” Barrett said.

Several members of the South Gulf department have attended Jaws of Life training at Chipola College and Florida State Fire College.

“Training in the fire service never ends, we continue to improve our ability to serve the public,” Bishop said.

In the near future, Barrett said, several other departments in Gulf County, Barrett noted, will be teaching an extensive hands-on Jaws of Life training using actual vehicles to practice.

“We are thankful for these other departments with much more experience taking us under their wings and educating us,” Barrett said.