First responders brush up rescue skills during trench training

The Bothell and Northshore Fire Departments will be participating in training exercises in Kirkland. - Sam Pak/Reporter newspapers
The Bothell and Northshore Fire Departments will be participating in training exercises in Kirkland.
— image credit: Sam Pak/Reporter newspapers

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, crews from Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and Mercer Island fire departments responded to a call regarding a construction worker who was buried in a trench in the Rose Hill neighborhood of Kirkland. Bothell and Northsore will be participating later this summer.

Once they arrived on the scene, the first responders found a car teetering in the corner of an L-shaped trench and an individual trapped under a pipe beneath the car.

The crews from the different cities worked together to get the person out without having the trench collapsing on them or the car falling further into the trench.


While this could have happened in real life, Tuesday’s incident was just a drill for the fire departments. The “trapped” individual was just a dummy. This was all part of a specialized, joint training exercise through the East Metro Training Group (EMTG).

EMTG was formed in 2012 to facilitate training programs for the fire departments of Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Northshore. The consortium was also designed to increase interoperability and reduce costs for citizens.

The current EMTG training, which takes place on publicly owned property at the southeast corner of 132nd Avenue Northeast and Old Redmond Road, will focus on trench rescue. In addition to the five cities in EMTG, fire departments from Bothell, Shoreline and Woodinville will also be participating in the training exercise.

Redmond Fire Department (RFD) Battalion Chief Ralph Ashmore said the training is part of annual refreshers they do to maintain the skills required for various types of calls. He added that when a call comes in, the units closest to the emergency respond — regardless of jurisdiction. Because of this, Ashmore said having everyone train together is important so they are familiar with each other’s equipment and techniques.

“It just makes the calls so much better,” he said.

Ashmore added that no single department is big enough to tackle such a call on its own without compromising service in other areas of its jurisdiction.


This month’s training exercise specifically prepares firefighters for incidents involving trenches created in regional roadways and on construction sites to install underground utilities such as water and sewer piping, natural gas pipelines or electrical wiring.

RFD Capt. Don Sanderson said technical rescues such as these are about critical and creative thinking and require the battalion chief in charge, as well as the rest of the first responders, to think about the big picture.

The region’s fire departments have been holding these exercises for several years — long before EMTG was formed — but Sanderson remembers responding to a call in the mid to late 1990s in which part of a dirt wall caved in, trapping a construction worker, before he received any specialized training.

It was while parts of the Microsoft Corp. campus in Redmond were still being constructed and Sanderson was one of the firefighters to dig the construction worker out of the hole. He said this particular rescue was actually an excavation, meaning the hole is wider than it is deep (a trench is the opposite), but the techniques are similar to those for a trench rescue.

He said looking back, if he were to do it all over again, he would put up some shoring — wooden boards used to line a trench wall, stabilized with air-pressurized aluminum struts — to prevent the dirt walls from caving in again. Sanderson, who is acting as a drill master and oversees the exercises when the firefighters run through the drills, said back then, they didn’t have any shoring and they were very lucky no additional people were hurt during the rescue.

“If (the wall) collapsed once, it could collapse again,” he said about the risks of a trench rescue.


The drills the fire departments have been running have been about an hour and a half long, butMercer Island Fire Department Battalion Chief Les Kenworthy said a real-life situation can take up to three or four hours. This is because in a real trench rescue, there may be other factors that may lead first responders to choose to wait before extracting a trapped individual.

In addition, the drills have had between 20-25 first responders working the rescue. In an actual rescue, the initial response team would consist of about 20 first responders.

The fire crews with their apparatuses will be conducting training exercises at the site from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. several days per week, through July 24. Apparatuses include ladder trucks, rescue trucks, fire engines, aid cars and medic units.

For safety reasons, the site is closed to non-fire department personnel without a prearranged escort.


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