Local firefighters undergo lifesaving training

Central Alabama firefighters were called to action Wednesday. Several departments worked together to help rescue people from collapsing buildings and holes. It was just a training exercise, but the obstacles weren't new.

All of the drills were incidents that firefighters encountered in Oklahoma and even in Alabama following the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. Firefighters{}hope they never have to use these skills. But as some departments learned two years ago, it can save lives.

Wednesday morning, Vestavia Hills firefighters worked to pull someone from a deep hole while Hueytown and Bessemer Fire Departments stabilized a building to rescue someone from the second floor. Just yards away, Homewood firefighters drilled through collapsed concrete walls to get to another victim.

"We train for this, but hopefully we won't have to use it," said Vestavia Hills Fire Battalion Chief Lonnie West.

The departments came together to practice potential disaster situations. Similar training proved priceless for Vestavia Hills when a morning storm April 27, 2011 turned into a damaging tornado.

"Something we didn't expect to come into Vestavia Hills. But as a team, we were prepared because of all the training we did," said West.

Homewood was sparred. But its firefighters were called to Hackleburg, a town nearly blown away.

"Your mind doesn't want to acknowledge what you're seeing, you have to look twice," said Homewood{}Fire Battalion Chief Mike Anastasia of the experience. "It [the training]{}gives them confidence where at 2 a.m. and it is raining and they have to suddenly do this, it's not foreign to them."

Wednesday's training also translates to non-weather related emergencies. Collapsed wall skills were useful to Jasper firefighters when a wall fell on a demolition worker in January. Birmingham firefighters had to pull a man from a manhole{}several years ago.

"These are perishable skills; so if you don't practice them, you lose them," said Birmingham Fire Battalion Chief Matt Russell who designed the training.

The skills aren't invaluable alone. The conversations that follow are also important.

"Every time we go out, every time we train, we come back with a laundry list and that's where the work begins again," said Anastasia.

As part of the training, there was also a team to assist with overall management and another to track the money spent.