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home : news : news August 28, 2014

1/31/2013 6:00:00 PM
Rescue team volunteers, firefighters and EMS officials all are working together
Appearing from left at a recent informational meeting and planning session - of Iowa County Emergency Services group representatives and posing (at the Hollandale Fire Department) with recently obtained Technical Rescue Team equipment is from left: Chuck Nye (Cobb Deputy Fire Chief/Deputy MABAS Division), Mark Gilbertson (Hollandale Fire Chief/President - Iowa County Rescue Team), Chad Whitford (President /Iowa County Emergency Services and Mineral Point Fire Chief), Tim Haas (Fire Chief, Village of Linden, MABAS Division 124 President), Brian Cushman (Dodgeville EMS Chief/Emergency Management Specialist Upland Hills Health/ Iowa Co. Emergency Services/ MABAS Division 124 Vice-President), Rob Busser (Fundraiser Chairman/Mineral Point firefighter) and Keith Hurlbert (Iowa County Emergency Management Director).
Appearing from left at a recent informational meeting and planning session - of Iowa County Emergency Services group representatives and posing (at the Hollandale Fire Department) with recently obtained Technical Rescue Team equipment is from left: Chuck Nye (Cobb Deputy Fire Chief/Deputy MABAS Division), Mark Gilbertson (Hollandale Fire Chief/President - Iowa County Rescue Team), Chad Whitford (President /Iowa County Emergency Services and Mineral Point Fire Chief), Tim Haas (Fire Chief, Village of Linden, MABAS Division 124 President), Brian Cushman (Dodgeville EMS Chief/Emergency Management Specialist Upland Hills Health/ Iowa Co. Emergency Services/ MABAS Division 124 Vice-President), Rob Busser (Fundraiser Chairman/Mineral Point firefighter) and Keith Hurlbert (Iowa County Emergency Management Director).
Gary McKenzie
Sports Writer

Residents of Iowa County - and its surrounding townships can be proud of advancements being made in emergency response circles in recent years. Not only has there been advanced training taking place at various departments across the county - but there is also more collaboration taking place than ever before by almost all county departments working together through use of MABAS (the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System).
Yet another valuable addition in this age of mega grain bins and huge farm and mill storage facilities is the newly formed Iowa County Technical Rescue Team, a unit specializing in situations where a farm worker could potentially become trapped and would possibly find themselves sinking in a grain bin - or in any situation where harnesses, ropes and baskets are needed in retrieving victims - no matter what the application.
Coinciding with the ramped up training session frequency, expansion of safety programs, need to learn new techniques and the ever changing advancements in safety equipment, is the need to raise associated funding.
Safety experts frequently confirm it takes lots of training - and plenty of dollars to properly equip emergency response volunteers.
A small network of county-wide emergency response members - stretching from and representing towns and villages all across Iowa County is planning a major fundraising effort this Spring
The group of fire chiefs, firemen, and EMS members help comprise the Iowa County Emergency Services Association. The group will host a special Sportsman's Night Fundraiser Sunday, April 7 at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point. The event begins at 3:30 p.m., consists of a social session from 3:30 to 5:30, a prime rib and all the trimmings meal to be served at 5:30 p.m. and a live auction to commence at 8 p.m.
Rifles, optic supplies, archery equipment, tickets to major college and professional sporting events are all among the various raffle prizes to be included April 7.
Group fundraising chairman and spokesman/fireman Rob Busser said recently that the event will be a typical sportsman's night type format and is limited to just 204 ticketholders /attendees. Tickets are $60 per person which includes the meal and the main raffle ticket and Busser says the evening promises to be a fun-filled, worthy event. All of the April 7 proceeds will go to the new rescue team.
The team volunteers raised $8,000 at the Iowa County Fair in September in a fundraiser and have spent that money to purchase four initial personal rescue sets for team members and a new coffer dam. They hope to purchase many additional PPE's (Personal Protective Equipment suits), miles of specialized rescue rope, body harnesses, gas masks, tripods, stokes baskets, gas monitors, webbing, backboards, confined space equipment and more in the near future. For more information or tickets - please call Rob Busser at 608-987-4192 or Mark Gilbertson at 608-574-8107 or any village fire department chief in Iowa County.
"The money we earn will go toward the Tech Rescue Team (what some call the 'ropes' team) this Spring and in future years, funds will go to the emergency services association," says Hollandale Fire Chief Mark Gilbertson. (Gilbertson is also president of the rescue team.)
Tim Haas (Fire Chief, Village of Linden, MABAS Division 124 President) says the group is also applying for grant funds as they try to obtain up to a $100,000 for the funds they need to properly outfit rescue unit responders.
Organizing the Technical Rescue Team began at a county meeting in Cobb in September, 2011.
Gilbertson, a Hollandale dairyman - and his son, Erik, had dropped a piece of metal into a grain storage facility - and briefly considered climbing in to retrieve it but being safety conscious, used a magnet to retrieve the metal.
"I asked- at the next county meeting if any nearby departments had supplies for extrication or grain engulfment - magnets, ropes, specialized equipment and of course few departments possessed much of that sort of equipment," says Gilbertson. "We went farther with it, got a new emergency government director in the person of Keith Hurlbert, had meetings, and he set us up with starting the group association - and we've been up and running ever since. We're thankful we haven't had a call (for a major grain bin rescue), but in the meantime, we've had lots of great training (industrial and outside rescue training) and have more confined space training scheduled ahead - when the weather gets good, here in 2013."
"We're at 23 individuals and are opening it up for any new rescue members who want to join. Members in the rescue group include individuals from Cobb, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Linden Hollandale, Ridgeway and Barneveld fire departments as well as volunteers from Dodgeville and Mineral Point EMS units."
"We trained 60 hours at ropes - in class and twice at a tower (at Southwest Technical College) and once more off a cliff - out at Governor Dodge State Park," says Gilbertson. "That (Gov. Dodge training) training experience - was unique in that we lugged so much equipment in and out (of the park) - in conducting the training. In our next confined spaces training - we will do the classroom work in both Mineral Point and Dodgeville - and will also soon be selecting a physical training location site."
Last summer, around two dozen rescue team members became rope rescue technician certified - as they learned specific techniques to be utilized in farm extrication and grain bin engulfment. Those individuals include John Woolever, Tim Rosson, Scott Butchen, Brian Whitehouse, Peter Downs, Chad Whitford, Bryan Marr, Michael Lynch, Troy Ludlum, Brian Cushman, Brock Gempler, Nick Portzen, Mark Gilbertson, Doug Ihm, Bob Kellsvig, Chuck Nye, Tom Jenson, Tate Rickey, Matt Butteris, Keith Drury, Tom Kersten, Jason Neis, Robb Busser and Tim Haas.
"We've (fire chiefs and rescue unit leaders across the county) made other changes in recent years - including the transition to having what is now the Iowa County Emergency Services Association," adds Gilbertson - and I give credit to Keith Hurlbert (Director at Iowa County Emergency Management) - because he had a lot of insight. It led to cooperation among all emergency services."
Tim Haas of the Linden Fire Department is the President of the County's MABAS  (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) group.
"It (MABAS) is a pre-determined system - the theory is that any time you're needed - there is already a pre-planned response that's already laid out," explains Haas.
"Instead of a fire chief being at a structure fire, wondering where he's going to get resources in the middle of the night, the response scenario is already planned. We've already thought about the possibly situations and have pre-role played the response," explains Haas. "Thus, we're not stripping any one department of all its resources - and he (a chief) will have coverage and can bring assistance to his own department to cover - in the case of a subsequent (2nd) call. MABAS was started in Illinois back in the 1960's and in Wisconsin, 55 of the 72 counties are now MABAS divisions. We started planning in 2009 and went live in 2010. Currently, we have 10 departments in the county participating in this program, "adds Haas.
"The great thing about it is that it has taken departments that were more or less, islands, all working together now. That's something that never used to happen," says Cobb Fire Department's Chuck Nye.
"When we were changing the name over, from the fire chiefs' association to the Iowa County Emergency Services Association, we made some additional changes," adds President - and Mineral Point Fire Chief Chad Whitford.
"When we going though the MABAS process, we moved ahead with MABAS on the fire end and got it all ready to go. Dodgeville and Brian (Brian Cushman/Dodgeville EMS) jumped in - but there were others being left in the dark and I felt....this doesn't make sense. We're one County emergency service - being Fire and EMS and I felt other (EMS) departments should be invited to be involved too. We got everyone (including law enforcement) on one page - and it just makes sense to work together."
"Plus, it takes Fire, EMS - and Police/Sheriff's personnel when we work a scene, so it's only smart to have all three at the table," adds Nye.
"We try and stress a lot of uniformity whether it's rehab or water shuttles," adds Whitford. "Ten years ago, had I been working a large structure fire, it was almost unheard of to ask for help. To ask, as an example, for Mark (Gilbertson) as a single resource, to assist as a command staff person - would have been out of the ordinary. Now, whether it's MABAS or not, we just naturally ask ourselves if we could use another commander - and if so, we ask them to come in to help out. A lot of that old 'attitude' - that we can do this (an emergency response) ourselves has gone away. Everything is more uniform now and we all know what's expected. Since we've created and combined the association and started this team - it has become a lot stronger," adds Whitford.
"With MABAS and the emergency association, we now use common paper forms across multiple departments," adds Haas. "Everybody's on the same page and are doing things the same way. MABAS opened everybody's eyes. You don't need to do things all by yourself. To bring in resources to help is okay."
"Plus, we've trained more together in these last couple of years than in the previous 15 years - combined," quips Whitford.
The men agreed that at a recent county-wide practice burn exercise, the experience was enhanced by including so many participants. Twelve departments and 75 people participated for a joint burn.
"One of the greatest influences of MABAS is that now, if we get called out on a major alarm, we usually leave two engines in our station. "If we have a double call, now with MABAS involved, our station can be staffed by someone else - we're never left empty handed," says Whitford.
"Basically, we just need one guy there that knows our district - just to get them (responders from another department) where they're going. We all do the same thing - it doesn't matter what color your trucks are. If we're busy, someone else can assist," adds Whitford.
Cushman and Whitford agree that the advancements mean different volunteers from neighboring or area towns can help at a neighbor's department - whether it be EMS - or fire related.
"It has evolved. We have learned when you have a call now and need help - you bring other guys in, things keep rolling along and you don't have to work your guys until their tongues are hanging out," says Nye.
"One call we've had (using MABAS) was in Arena and one was in Avoca - those were the two active alarms we've had thus far," says Haas. "We have gone to Boone County, Illinois to assist last May with a large mulch fire - when their local resources were wiped out. We created a strike team - went down (with several tanker trucks) and worked for an eight hour operation - plus additional travel time."
Whitford and Gilbertson explain that the group's predecessor was the old Iowa County Fire Chief's Association, a group initiated by men who recognized a need for cooperation - back in 1981.
"Tom Adams was the first president at the time and he was also chief at Mineral Point - at that time," notes Whitford.
Jiggs Lynch was also mentioned as being one of the instrumental individuals in the early years of the association.
Whitford says that in an earlier era, there used to be more of a rivalry between local fire departments and departments would avoid calling each other for help - a viewpoint current day chiefs look back on as being both archaic and unwise.
"And thankfully, Keith (Hurlbert) and Emergency Services has been instrumental in getting our new communication systems in place,"adds Gilbertson.
Hurlbert says federal mandates - required radio band width usage changes - a development that greatly influenced public safety.
"Narrowbanding cuts in half the spectrum we're allowed to use. Thus, we saw change coming, we had additional issues with the old system and we moved forward with trying to find funding for a new (radio/communications) system - and were successful," says Hurlbert.
Together, all the aforementioned Iowa County Fire, EMS and law enforcement departments received $753,000 worth of new radio/communications equipment.
Another $1.5 million has been spent on the remainder of the County's new communication system, including the new tower located in Dodgeville.
"Of the $2.23 million expenditure, grants covered $1.523 million and the remaining $700,000 came out of county coffers, monies the county had at the time," adds Hurlbert.
County dispatcher - and Mineral Point firefighter, Rob Busser, notes that often, people don't realize just how many emergency related calls are received each year.
"Last year, in 2012, the Iowa County Communications Center received 19,874 total calls, says Busser. "MABAS has helped dispatchers become more uniform in verbiage use and all personnel became more knowledgeable and are better prepared," says Busser.
Work also continues on the association and Hurlbert's quest in putting together a RIT team (a Rapid Intervention Team - a team that sits on the side at an emergency operation site, to help in the case rescue is needed for the on-site rescuers.
Also, potentially on the horizon one day, a HazMat (Hazardous Materials) response team. Currently, local firefighters are the ones often called in to respond to potentially dangerous spills - whereas in large municipalities, specialized units are more readily available.
"Keith (Hurlbert) is putting together a HazMat team and we're looking at doing things this county has never had - or done, previously," adds Whitford.
All this (organization and development of rescue teams and emergency responders from fire department and EMS units) takes time and money," emphasizes Hurlbert. "To have the equipment needed for these guys to perform and to be able to use the training, we need money. The guys - for their part, surely have been putting in their time."
"It's a big draw and pull on time - with no career departments in the county - everybody's a volunteer, emphasizes Haas. "The time pull on one's resources - family, children, work responsibilities, it's a lot to ask to have guys put in all the night and weekend time for training."
In summary, Hurlbert is quick to praise the magnificent efforts of the men and women involved in providing emergency services in Iowa County.
"Just because it's a fire being fought by volunteers - it's not any less dangerous, the car accident any less serious, the hazardous materials spill any less toxic," says Hurlbert.
"These guys still do a lot of the same things anyone is expected to do in a large city or in a large department - that's the expectation that's ahead of them. To just have an attitude they are just volunteers is a real disservice to them. These guys are putting in a ton of time to make themselves an effective bunch of people and they are doing a wonderful job."

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