March 30, 2023 - It’s trench time for the Key West Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team. This week the first responders are out near the Hawk Missile Site learning how to safely extricate an accident victim from a deep trench.
“This vital training for our department,” said Fire Chief Alan Averette, “but this also served double duty for Community Services. Their crews came out and dug these trenches. So both departments are benefiting.”
The USAR team is equipped and ready for just about anything imaginable -- and sometimes the unimaginable. The USAR team is an advanced rescue team trained and equipped to respond countywide to structural collapses, incidents in which victims are trapped, or in which there is a threat to the safety of first responders.
This week’s training session is USAR-certifying new firefighters and paramedics for the team. The training is being conducted by National Rescue Consultants.
The USAR team has rescued people trapped in buildings after hurricanes. They retrieved two victims in a construction collapse several years ago at Key West International Airport. They saved a man who was crushed under tons of concrete when a cistern cover collapsed.
The team is often called upon to remove medical patients who cannot be transported by normal means, whether it's because they're in a loft or just too large to be carried through a small doorway. The special equipment and expertise are sometimes called upon to enhance vehicle extractions after an accident.
City Manager Patti McLauchlin, Fire Chief Alan Averette and the entire City Commission honored Capt. Robert Franco for his 20 years of service to the Key West Fire Department.
He came to the department in 2002 as a certified firefighter and EMT. During his tenure he obtained several additional certifications, including paramedic, fire inspector, hazmat technician, and fire instructor. He has served as a member of the Hazmat Team, The Search and Rescue Team, and the Dive Team.
“Capt. Franco has demonstrated an unwavering dedication and strong work ethic since the day he was hired,” said Chief Averette. “He is a well-respected member of the Key West Fire Department. Congratulations on your 20 years of service.”
McLauchlin presented Capt. Franco with a gold watch and a City challenge coin commemorating his 20 years with the City.
Members of the Key West Fire Department and the Key West Police Department recently invested in the community’s future by participating in the College of the Florida Keys’ “Future Heroes Summer Camp.”
The camp ran from June 27th to July 1st and provided kids aged seven to 11 the experience of learning what it takes to be a front-line hero.
They learned about everything from putting out a fire to what the K9 Unit’s duties consist of.
Have a Safe 4th of July.
The Key West Fire Marshal’s Office would like to remind the community to stay safe this 4th of July.
Public fireworks displays are not allowed within the boundaries of the City of Key West unless permitted by the Key West Fire Department.
The City Code of Ordinances stipulates that permitted fireworks shall be handled by a state-licensed pyrotechnician.
Key West has a large number of old wooden structures, and illegal fireworks pose a threat of fire as well as injury.
KWFD Fire Marshal Jason Barroso main concern “is that everyone remains safe while celebrating this year’s 4th of July holiday.”
The Rotary Club of Key West will have its annual approved and permitted fireworks display on the 4th of July at Edward B Knight Pier.
Preparation is everything, and this week a team of emergency responders conducted a drill to ensure the best response if a hurricane threatens. Key West Fire and Rescue, Monroe County Fire and Rescue, the Lower Keys Medical Center, and the U.S. Air Force Air National Guard all participated.
If Monroe County calls for a mandatory evacuation, hospital patients must be flown out to other hospitals. During the drill, volunteers posing at patients were transported from the hospital to the tarmac at the Naval Air Station Key West where they were boarded on a transport plane.
“Teamwork and practice mean that we’re ready should a storm come our way,” said Key West Emergency Manager Capt. Gregory Barroso. “We need to be sure we coordinate ambulance and air service to keep the patients safe under a threat of a hurricane.”
The last mandatory evacuation order in the Keys was in 2017 for Hurricane Irma. But there are no guarantees, said Capt. Barroso. In 2004 there were four calls for a mandatory evacuation, and three the following year.
While emergency managers are practicing, the community is reminded to do the same. Be sure your hurricane plan is in place in case we have more than a drill this hurricane season.
Fourteen Key West High School students this week graduated the Key West Fire Department’s Firefighters Academy. Proud families, members of the Key West Fire Department, and City officials were on hand during the ceremony to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of these students who have invested two years of training for their future careers as first responders.
These students earned certifications in Firefighter I, Emergency Medical Responder, and Hazmat Awareness.
Lt Tim Anson, who leads the academy, praised the group for the tenacity it requires to finish the academy, noting that they would do their grueling physical training in the early hours before heading off to a full day of high school.
City Manager Patti McLauchlin thanked the students for their community spirit and presented each graduate with a City challenge coin.
The two-year fire academy trains future firefighters while they’re attending their final two years of high school and provides them, upon completion, the equivalent training of a Certified Firefighter I, which puts them halfway through the training required to become a Key West Firefighter.
The Key West Fire Department has seen an alarming upward trend in the number of fires on the island. In 2021, there were 20 fires. So far this year, in just four months there have been 17.
One of the newer threats to fire safety are e-bike and other lithium-ion batteries. The Fire Department has responded to two separate fires related to e-bike batteries in less than two weeks.
Fire Marshal Capt. Jason Barroso wants to remind e-bike owners to always follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions for charging and storing them. These batteries can overheat, catch fire or even explode, causing the possibility of injuries, fires and deaths.
“With the increased uptick in fires,” said Capt. Barroso, “it’s a good time to remind the community to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are safe and in working condition.”
The Fire Department receives annual donation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and any Key West resident who needs help with this can contact the Fire Department at 305-809-3933 or email us at email@example.com.
For more vital safety tips, go to www.nfpa.org.
The Key West Fire Department’s medics had the opportunity to take a refresher course with a very special patient last week. Bill McGrath and Richard Gonzalez, of the Southeaster Medical Academy and affiliated with Braxton College, arrived with a patient simulator.
This high-tech training manikin does most things a living person would. Its eyes open and close and the pupils dilate and respond to light. It breathes. It has a pulse. It groans with pain and can even go into a full seizure.
All of the symptoms are controlled by the trainer via a nearby computer pad.
The training actually allowed the medics to work through a variety of scenarios and see immediate and realistic results.
KWFD’s Medical Director Antonio Gandia worked closely with the medics, talking through their responses and the different symptoms that might clue them in on what’s happening with an unconscious patient.
“We were really excited to have our hands on that kind of training equipment,” said Emergency Medical Services Chief Keith Hernandez. “The mannequin simulator is about as real as it can get for our medic students to apply their knowledge and skills they have learned thus far.”
According to instructor Gonzalez, the academy also has a preemie baby, a toddler and a child as well as a pregnant woman simulation. All of these will allow the medics to apply what they know in different scenarios, including a woman giving birth.
The trainers also brought along a virtual reality simulator that allowed the medics to explore various scenarios.
“We are thrilled to have access to this kind of training,” said Fire Chief Alan Averette. “We want to do everything we can to be sure that the Key West Fire Department provides the best care possible to our community."
Four intrepid candidates for the position of firefighter with the Key West Fire Department successfully completed the difficult agility test required to be considered for the position.
There is currently one open position, however upcoming retirements mean that these candidates will be considered in the near future.
Many of the current members of the fire department started out at the Key West High School Fire Academy. This two-year program is followed by two years of fire school after high school graduation. Then comes the agility test.
The current high school students in the academy set up the field for the agility testing on Thursday. The test consists of climbing the 75-foot ladder on the ladder truck, followed immediately by single-handedly pulling a firehose a good 50 feet. From there, they must challenge their upper body strength by hefting a 50-pound jaws of life unit, carry it several feet and control the jaws as if they were going to begin cutting, then return it to the original spot.
Next, the candidates must heft a 24-foot extension ladder, lean it against a structure, then ease it back down. Once that’s done, they must drag a firehose 100 feet. For the final part of the test the candidates dragged a 175 pound dummy – dressed in full turnout gear -- 100 feet to ensure they would be able to pull a fallen person or colleague from danger. If that’s not hard enough, the candidates must complete the tasks dressed in their turnout gear and wearing air tanks on their backs.
Completion is not the only component of the test; timing is vital.
“I’m very proud of each of these young people who did so well,” said Fire Chief Alan Averette. “It’s hard work and a lot of dedication to get to this point, but it’s vital to ensure that the Key West Fire Department is prepared for any situation in the community.”
The Key West City Commission and Mayor Teri Johnston, during this week’s meeting, took the opportunity to commend Key West Fire Captain Jason Barroso for heading up the Herculean task of replacing the burned down home of Ms. Alelia Butler.
After the Galveston Lane fire nearly two years ago, Capt. Barroso pulled together a team of off-duty firefighters, businesses, builders, and designers. The entire community pulled together to build Ms. Butler a new home, which she moved into on December 22. The community donated money, manpower, building supplies, and even furniture
Capt. Barroso, with the Key West Fire Department and more than 60 community businesses and individual volunteers presented Ms. Butler with the Certificate of Occupancy for her new home before Christmas. The new home is the result of an extraordinary outpouring of generous donations of time, materials and effort by the entire Key West community, and many agree that it would not have happened without the leadership and pure dedication of Capt. Barroso.
“I can’t tell you how grateful and thankful I am,” said Capt. Barroso. “It was an incredible community and team effort. We’re very blessed to have such a beautiful community on this island.”
“Now, therefore,” reads the commendation, “the City Commission of the City of Key West does hereby recognize Capt. Jason Barroso and the Key West Fire Department for tremendous leadership and commitment to the safety and comfort of the Butler family and the citizens of Key West.”
In the photo: Commissioner Gregory Davila, Jimmy Weekley, and Mary Lou Hoover, Mayor Teri Johnston, Capt. Jason Barroso, Ms. Alelia Butler, Fire Chief Alan Averette, Vice Mayor Sam Kaufman, Commissioner Clayton Lopez and Billy Wardlow.
Submit Your Stories
Chamber members send us your press releases on your organizations accomplishments, staff awards and/or major happenings. We will post them for free.