Fire Science use Jaws of Life, cut ahead of competition
SHERIDAN – With heavy snow and cold temperatures, Rock Canyon High School’s Fire Science class’s recent vehicle extrication exercise was about as realistic as you can get—in training.
“You can expect more traffic accidents, and therefore more auto extrications during lousy weather,” explained Rock Canyon teacher and former firefighter, George Piccone. “The only thing we were missing was the dark of night and of course a really slick surface.”
While there was no one actually trapped in the vehicles, the Fire Science students went to work—quickly, but diligently making cut-after-cut with the mammoth-sized hydraulic sheers, which some call the ‘Jaws of Life.’
“It goes from very basic to extremely complicated, depending on the scenario. If you have a car sitting on its wheels, you can use hand tools to get in really quick or just open a door regularly—that’s what you want to do. But, if you have a car folded in half under an 18-wheeler, it gets dicey,” Piccone said.
Before long, the team had cut off the roof and taken the doors off the abandoned vehicle at Western Metals Recycling in Sheridan.
“It was a really cool experience. It shows us what we would actually be doing on a scene,” said Rock Canyon senior Tanner Rivera.
Rock Canyon senior Lucas Paylor enjoyed exercises like this so much that he decided to take the course again, giving him an opportunity to help lead his fellow students.
“It was a really good experience, especially going through it a second time. I had a really good idea of what to do. I got to help some of the younger guys,” Paylor explained.
Thanks to a partnership with Littleton Fire, every month the fire science class gets to participate in an authentic training exercise like this.
Already this year, the team has practiced landing and loading patients on an AirLife helicopter. Next month the team will jump into the icy waters of Chatfield Reservoir to attempt ice rescues. They’ll also learn about fire control systems at Denver largest skyscraper, techniques to fight wild land fires, and in the finale, an opportunity to extinguish actual fires at Littleton’s training facility.
“These guys are doing stuff that no high schools will do this year,” Piccone said.
In each of these scenarios, safety is the first priority and focus.
“By the end of April, these boys will be entering a IDLH atmosphere, which stands for Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health,” Piccone said. [During the live fire exercise] if they were, for example, to rip off their mask, they would be inhaling super-heated toxic gases. They are not going to go into that environment, until we are 100 percent sure they are capable of doing that.”
Piccone and the Littleton Fire Rescue plan each exercise to the smallest detail, providing in-depth training beforehand, and then expert guidance during the training. He says safety requires constant attention and vigilance by everyone involved.
“You’re using really powerful tools. If you get the wrong body part in the way, you might crush it or lose it,” Piccone said.
With the proper precautions and training, Piccone says it is possible to provide an authentic experience to students, with little danger.
“It is so controlled. We don’t want these guys to have the tiniest fraction of an accident,” Piccone said.
“As long as you know what you’re doing, you know you won’t get hurt,” Paylor said.
The students say these exercises are not only fun, but they are also preparing them for their future careers.
“It gives us a taste of what the actual firefighters are doing and a taste of whether this is actually something we want to go into or not,” Rivera said. “The fieldtrips we do are really cool experiences.”
Nearly all of the students who have taken the course have pursued careers in fire/rescue or medicine.
“I think this will give me a huge head start on the competition,” Paylor said
“When we start testing for departments, it shows initiative at a young age. We’ve been wanting to do this from a young age and we’ve been working at it since high school,” Rivera added.
While Denver Fire and most of the surrounding fire departments do not consider candidates under the age of 21, Piccone say some of his former students have gotten jobs with volunteer fire departments. One, he says, has earned his Emergency Medial Technician (EMT) certification and is serving in Beaver Creek.
“He is actually making money as he is going to school at Colorado Mountain College,” Piccone said.
Rock Canyon’s Fire Science program is one of only a handful that offers these type of experiences to high school students.
“What these high school kids are getting the opportunity to do is pretty remarkable. It is rare in the country,” Piccone said. “High school was not like this when I was in high school. Not even close.”
VIDEO: Rock Canyon Fire Science students participate in helicopter landing last fall.