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Rubber Boots Only At This Rodeo

A team from the Alexandria Fire Department took top honors at a local rodeo. And, there wasn't a steer, horse, or chuck wagon involved.

The event was the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority/Fire Department Rodeo. It tested the skills of firefighters and EMS personnel in dealing with life threatening accidents and attacks, as well as their proficiency in using the tools of their profession.

Conducted at WMATA's new and enlarged training facility in Landover, MD, it involved bus and train rescue events, emergency transportation evacuation cart set-up and dash, hydrant connection and fire hose accuracy.

Alexandria's team was composed of Lieutenant Miguel Garcia, team leader, Lieutenant Samuel R. Parker, and firefighters Samuel Reyes and Keith Walker. "This was our first time working together for this event. The other teams are together on a regular basis," Garcia explained.

Those other teams came from fire departments in Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties, and the District of Columbia. But, it was the Alexandria team that returned home with the 2002 Championship Trophy.

"There are several evolutions put together to get people off of mass transit vehicles in the event of an accident or attack," Walker said. A team's expertise in the use of their equipment and their physical stamina are also put to the test.

IN THE CASE OF THE Emergency Transportation Evacuation Cart (ETEC), the team had to get the cart on the rails and then make a 50 yard dash to a pre-determined point. The cart is used in both open areas and in tunnels to evacuate injured passengers.

For the bus rescue event, the vehicle was smoke-filled with victims trapped inside. The teams are required to locate the victims and extricate them to a safe zone.

The train rescue exercise calls for evacuating victims trapped as a result of a simulated collision in a tunnel. It involved both working in a smoke, zero visibility environment, and the use of the ETEC.

"Our speed and accuracy were tested in the hydrant and fire hose event," Reyes said. "We had to set a 150 foot line and then knock over three cones in a box about 20 feet away."

In addition to providing firefighters and EMS personnel a venue to hone their skills, the event, which is always held in November, also affords critical training for Metro personnel, according to the team. "This is a great learning opportunity for them," Walker said.

"This contest is done under WMATA supervision. It's a program that teaches firefighters throughout the area to develop their skills in confronting potential terrorist attacks. It involves both physical situations, such as collisions or explosions, and potential gas attacks," Garcia emphasized.

"This facility is unique in the nation," according to Walker. "The next phase in its use is to bring teams from throughout the country for training." Reyes added, "It's large enough to practice in actual Metro trains and buses."

Scores in the competition are based on time scales with the winning team racking up the best overall time for all events. "This may have been our first time working together for this, but, it sure won't be our last," they all agreed.