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Rescue and Survival: Grissom is home to intense one-of-a-kind fire training course

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner


At Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, Reserve Citizen Airmen are putting firefighters to the ultimate test to make sure they can perform when the heat is really on and lives are on the line.

Grissom is home to the Department of Defense Rescue and Survival Course – a one-of-a-kind five‑day training class run entirely by Air Force Reservists.

“This class is the hardest thing you can do as a DoD firefighter – hands down,” said Senior Master Sgt. Chris Bauchle, the course superintendent and deputy fire chief with the 434th Air Refueling Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron. “Several years ago we recognized there was a need for hands-on training to show firefighters what they can expect physically and psychologically in some of the worst-case scenarios they may find themselves in.”

Bauchle and Master Sgt. Travis Bender, the course’s noncommissioned officer in charge, have put together an elite team of Reserve firefighters who serve as instructors for the course.

“The great thing about our instructors is that they are Reservists who serve full time on civilian fire departments in big cities where they are going on a lot of emergencies,” Bauchle said. “Master Sgt. Bender and I both serve on the Indianapolis Fire Department and we have others from the Chicago Fire Department, the Oklahoma City Fire Department and various departments across the country. We are able to bring our civilian experience together and create this course for DoD firefighters.”

The course is currently held twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall, and is limited to 16 students per class to keep a two-to-one student‑to‑teacher ratio.

The first two days of the course focus on firefighter survival.

“We teach students how to call a mayday, how to react when they fall through a floor or are trapped in a basement and they are running out of air,” Bauchle said. “We teach bailouts – how to bail out of a second or third story window if you are cut off by fire and can’t escape by the way you came in. The students will learn how to bail out of a window with a piece of webbing or on a charged hose line. A typical scenario might be you have your axe, your webbing and a bed frame and you have to figure out how to get out of a window in a matter of seconds.”

The third and fourth days focus on firefighter rescue.

“These two days are focused on saving one of our own, and all of the scenarios are based on actual events where firefighters died in the line of duty,” Bauchle said. “The goal is to prevent these deaths from ever happening again. It might be a firefighter has fallen through a floor into a basement, how do you use hose line or rope to get them back up? How do you take a downed firefighter out of a window on a ladder? Students learn to think quickly to get a fellow firefighter out of danger and to safety.”

The final day ties everything the students have learned over the first four days into one Rapid Intervention Team scenario. “A firefighter calls a mayday, the team has to go in,” Bauchle said. “They’re going through wire boxes, they have to breach drywall and bring a firefighter down a ladder. It’s a huge scenario that pulls everything together from the whole week, and it’s no joke.”

Students who pass the tasks, conditions and standards for each drill are presented with the No Slack patch by 434th ARW commander Col. Thomas Pemberton and 434th Mission Support Group commander Col. Gretchen Wiltse.

Staff Sgt. Stephen Gregory, a Reserve firefighter at Grissom and civilian firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department, earned the No Slack patch at the most recent Rescue and Survival Course this spring.

“This was the most realistic and beneficial course I’ve ever taken,” Gregory said. “We learn a lot of techniques to get civilians out, but there is no course that matches this one for learning how to get a fellow firefighter out of danger. I think this course should be required for all DoD firefighters.” Gregory is slated to be an instructor at the next Rescue and Survival Course in the fall.

Bauchle said there is a long waiting list of people wanting to get into the training and there is talk of potentially expanding the course to quarterly.

“We would love to be able to teach more classes,” Bauchle said. “There is a definite need for this type of training. Either you figure out how to get yourself or your brother or sister firefighter out of danger or they may die. Our goal is to make those skills and mindset charted territory so they are ready to act if they encounter a situation like this on the very next shift they work.”