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Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Wishing you and yours a truly happy Thanksgiving holiday from all of us at Roco Rescue

Happy Thanksgiving from Roco Rescue

 

Small-town Department, Big-time Hazards

Monday, August 23, 2021

Many small-town fire departments often have their share of big-time hazards, but perhaps none fits that bill like the Westlake Fire Department in Southwest Louisiana. This department, located on the I-10 industrial corridor, is surrounded by some of the largest petrochemical plants in the nation, and it’s growing daily. And, while maybe small in number, this department must be ready for some of the most diverse hazards possible – many with huge implications for their community.

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Westlake firefighters respond to a house fire in Myrtle Springs (photo courtesy WFD)

Winner of Roco's LFCA Training Course Giveaway

With that said, we are extremely proud to have awarded the Westlake Fire Department with FREE Roco training as the winner of our Urban/Industrial Rescue Essentials™ Course Giveaway at the Louisiana Fire Chiefs Association (LFCA) annual conference. This course giveaway affords us the opportunity to offer life-saving training while showing our support for all of the hard work that first responders do every day to serve their communities.

We recently sat down with Westlake Fire Department’s Assistant Fire Chief, Jimmy Boyette, to learn a little more about their operation, what drives them and how Roco’s confined space and high angle rescue training can benefit them. Check out our conversation below.


Roco: First, tell us more about your department…what is the makeup of your organization and what sort of emergencies are you responsible for covering?

Westlake FD: Westlake Fire is made up of one Fire Chief, two Assistant Fire Chiefs, three Shift Captains, three Shift Lieutenants, and (when fully staffed) six Firefighters. We are also currently working with the city and our Fire Board to secure more staff members to better assist our rapidly growing area. We respond to the City of Westlake and the surrounding areas (Ward 4, Fire District 3) in Calcasieu Parish. We run fire, rescue, medical, and HAZMAT emergencies in our extremely industrial area.

Roco: Currently, how often does your department conduct training?

Westlake FD: We train three days a month at the Calcasieu training center. We try to stick with a theme or concentration, such as car extraction, medical help, etc. We encourage anyone who shows interest to attend, although it’s hard when there are only seven spots and all 15 of our members want to go!

Roco: What are some of the specific hazards that your department faces and what technical rescue incidents could they pose?

Westlake FD: Our city is surrounded by industry, which presents many potential confined space and high angle scenarios for our department. The multi-billion-dollar Sasol plant expansion took place, essentially, in our backyards – and that is just one of the plants that is local to our area. In our response area also lies the Isle of Capri Casino high-rise construction project along with numerous apartment complexes with more on the way. Then, we have the I-10 Calcasieu River bridge, which poses a continuous hazard for the thousands of travelers on I-10 each day. Add in a passenger rail train, and the fact that we are surrounded on three sides by water – all come with their own unique opportunities for varying types of rescue disciplines.

Roco: Because you are located in such a highly industrialized area, do you have a mutual aid agreement with other agencies? How does that work?

Westlake FD: We are a part of the Southwest LA Mutual Aid Association, which is a large agreement between municipalities and industries to help provide HAZMAT and supplies outside of normal capabilities when needed. Any entity of the association can call upon another member for resources in time of a major disaster or event. When manpower or resources are lacking, members can step in and help each other. The organization meets monthly to keep a pulse on what members and local businesses are doing and how we may be able to partner together.

Roco: Ideally, how many department personnel would you like to be trained in confined space and high angle rescue? Why do your members join the rescue team?

Westlake FD: Because we are a small department, we would like to see everyone rescue trained, but so many still need the right training in order for that to happen. Those who serve on the rescue team generally have a passion for going above and beyond to serve the community. Many of them have generational ties to first responders, and a number of our team members previously served in the military. A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.

“A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.”

Roco: What made you seek this training grant from Roco Rescue?

Westlake FD: Our city is in the process of recovering from not only the global pandemic taking an economic toll on nearly all sources of funding (like everyone else), but also a near-direct hit from two back-to-back hurricanes; a once-in-a-generation freeze; and, more recently, the floods that impacted Southwest Louisiana. All of this coming during an already difficult financial recovery due to mismanagement by a previous administration that almost left the city bankrupt. As a result, we are constantly searching to find and take advantage of all sources of free training. For example, we currently use the Lake Charles Fire Academy as an initial training for new employees. The majority of our members have a basic understanding of confined space/rope rescue techniques, but we believe having some (if not all of them) partake in more advanced training will help us flatten the learning curve. We also have a Captain and Assistant Chief who are previous graduates of Roco Rescue – and they have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.

“Our department leaders have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.”

Roco: Final question, what makes your team work well together?

Westlake Fire DepartmentWestlake FD: Being small, everyone knows everyone. We fully encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families. Westlake has a big-town feel but it is really a small-town attitude.

“We really encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families.”


Roco applauds the hard work and dedication that every member of the Westlake Fire Department continues to show their community, and we are honored to train alongside this team. They recognized a need for more in-depth training and refused to back down until a solution was found. Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Boyette stated, “We are in the heart of the industrial area of Lake Charles, which means a special operations division within our department is an absolute must.”

Sked Stretcher...Celebrating 40 Years and Still the Best!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Few rescue devices have saved more lives than the Sked Stretcher – and it’s literally saved thousands of lives. And, after almost 40 years, it’s still the most compact, versatile stretcher on the market. In reality, it has become a staple item in rescue that is used by thousands of emergency responders around the globe including the U.S. military.

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Roco recently talked with the owners of Skedco to get a little more history on this unique rescue system. According to Bud Calkin, “Skedco has been on a lifesaving mission since 1981 – and while there have been numerous improvements to the Sked over the years, it is still a simple, effective tool for rescuers.” Co-owner Catherine Calkin adds, “Skedco is definitely all about supporting emergency responders, both civilian and military. We’re also about providing a good place to work for our employees. People depend on us; we can’t let them down.”

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We asked a number of questions about the origins of the Sked stretcher as well as how the device is produced, tested and used in the field. Here’s more of our discussion…

Roco: Of course, the first question is how many Sked stretchers do you estimate that you've made over the years? And, how many rescues?

Skedco: Way over a half-million; we produce and ship thousands every year to places around the world. There’s no way to know exactly how many rescues have been performed with the Sked, but we estimate in the thousands.

Roco: What's a day like at Skedco with the manufacturing of the Sked?

Skedco: Busy. We try to have at least 500 standard and HMH Skeds ready to box up and ship at all times. We never know when different governments will place big orders; and, of course, they always expect very prompt shipping. But having these in stock also means that other customers get the same quick shipping times.

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Roco: What gave you the idea for the Sked stretcher?

Skedco: After struggling with all types of rescue litters in the Army and wanting to evacuate a wounded soldier over long distances by myself, I eventually redesigned a game carrier invented by my sister for dragging a deer from the point of kill. After extensive research on plastics and other materials, I built the first Sked. I drew the design around a very heavy guy, and it has never changed – although there are several variations now and I am close to fielding one more for the military.

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Roco: How long did the research and development of the Sked take?

Skedco: Considering the evolution and expansion of capabilities, it was about 5 years. We made changes as needs appeared along the way. Today, there are 8 versions of Sked.

Roco: What makes the Sked so perfect for rescue?

Skedco: Its compactness, versatility, durability and ease of use.

Roco: How do you test the Sked?

Skedco: There were a number of tests that I did on the Sked including “cold crack” testing to
minus 120 degrees; pull testing on the grommets in the plastic; drop-testing; environmental testing of the plastic; chemical absorption testing of the plastic; and pull-testing of all sewn webbing. And I myself was inside the stretcher during in-use field testing of all functions. I felt that if it wasn’t safe for me, then I could not trust the device for others. I had to have faith in the product, or I wouldn’t have produced it.

Roco: What type of plastic is used in making the Sked? And how strong is it?

Skedco: The Sked is made from a proprietary formula of E-Z glide polyethylene plastic. This plastic can withstand temperatures as low as minus 120 degrees without becoming brittle. It has proven to be tough enough to withstand being run over by a 56-ton tank – and then used to drag a soldier around a military base over extremely rough terrain for more than 10 miles! The greatest weight we've heard a Sked carrying was a 1,347 lb. individual. What’s more, there was no damage to the Sked afterward.

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Roco: How is the military version of the Sked different from the civilian version?

Skedco: The military has its own unique specifications for the Sked. It is designed specifically for the battlefield. This includes more subdued coloring; and, in some cases, the stretcher is narrower and shorter for extremely tight spaces and for carrying long distances when size is a problem. However, the plastic material is the same as the civilian version.

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Roco: What is the most unique rescue that has been performed using a Sked stretcher?

Skedco: I think the most unusual and demanding rescue was the cave rescue in Thailand a couple of years ago when 12 kids and their soccer coach were rescued. Nobody thought it could be done but they finally got permission to proceed. The Air Force Pararescue guys out of Okinawa and the Thai Navy Seals performed the rescue. There was an Australian anesthesiologist who mixed the drug combination so the boys could be kept sedated during each rescue evolution. This rescue operation required hundreds of people for support including staging and maintenance of equipment, pumping water from parts of the cave, rigging of rope systems, searching for the boys and providing food and water for the boys. It was a massive effort, and a huge success – we are grateful to have played a role.

Roco: Speaking of water rescue applications, what makes up this specialized version?

Skedco: There is a special floatation system for using the stretcher in water. The system is designed to keep the Sked upright in water. If it gets capsized, it will self-right. Patient packaging in the water takes as little as 20 seconds by only one person.

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Roco: Do you ever hear from patients who have been rescued using a Sked?

Skedco: Very seldom; but when I do, I get some of the most bizarre stories about it!

Roco: How has the Sked improved over the years?

Skedco: There have been many improvements and additions to the original Sked stretcher. Examples include a flotation system, spinal immobilization, better ropes, carabiners, webbing and carrying bag. For the Hazmat/hospital version, I used polypropylene webbing and military-grade plastic side-release buckles for safety in chemical environments. The newer Sked units include Austrian-made Skedco/Cobra side-release buckles, which are extremely strong and durable – and much easier to use.

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Roco: What are your thoughts about the future of the Sked stretcher? Any changes or revisions anticipated?

Skedco: As a matter of fact, I am currently designing 2 new Skeds for the military. Final testing will be done within the next few months.

Roco: What are your thoughts about the future of technical rope rescue?

Skedco: There will always be a need for Technical Rope Rescue – because people continue to get themselves into the most difficult places and in the most dangerous environments. Many times, there are injuries with desperate need of medical care. Thankfully, there are special people who will risk their own lives to save them from these deadly situations; and there are companies like Roco who do the training for those dangerous events.


Roco salutes the entire Skedco team for their many years of service as they approach their 40th anniversary later this year. We also asked what makes it all worthwhile – the many long hours, the never-ending testing and the continuing advancements to the Sked. Founder Bud Calkin stated, “It’s simple. We are extremely privileged to be able to provide a specialized tool needed to perform oftentimes extreme rescues and to know so many hundreds of rescue personnel from around the world who risk their lives on a regular basis to save others. To borrow a phrase from US Air Force Pararescue, ‘That others may live.’ After all, isn't that what it’s all about?”

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Rescue Challenge Spotlight - Valero Wilmington

Friday, May 10, 2019
 
“It’s an intense two days. It’s exhausting and hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. I tell all my guys, ‘you’ll work your butt off at Rescue Challenge, but you’ll love every minute it.’”

- Randy Pickering, Asst Fire Chief, Valero Wilmington Refinery
If you’ve ever flown from LAX Airport, there’s a good chance the fuel in your airplane was refined at Valero Wilmington, a leading independent refinery of transportation fuels and petroleum products.

Assistant Chief Randy Pickering oversees training for the refinery’s 40+ rescuers, who are divided into four teams by shift. Made up of operators, maintenance techs, welders, electricians and more, these individuals sign up for the additional responsibilities and training because they love the challenge of it, and because they want to be there to help their co-workers in case of an emergency.

Rescue Challenge Spotlight - Valero WilmingtonValero Wilmington has attended Roco Rescue Challenge nearly every year since 1991 and has a stellar track record in the annual event. The safety and effectiveness of the team is a commitment taken very seriously by the group, and Challenge helps them hone their skills to the max, enhancing their culture of safety.

The team of ten rescuers who travel to Baton Rouge each October have earned the privilege to represent Valero Wilmington by winning an in-house rescue competition.

“We use Roco Rescue Challenge as a motivator for all our rescue teams and a reward for those who are selected to go,” says Randy.
From unusually challenging high-line scenarios to seemingly impossibly small confined spaces, Randy is proud of the way his team thinks on their feet and works together in unfamiliar rescue scenarios. For Valero Wilmington, each Rescue Challenge has been a rewarding learning experience, as well as an opportunity to bring home a coveted trophy (the team’s good-natured, friendly SoCal exterior conceals a competitive streak…).

The Roco Rescue Challenge has one open team slot remaining.

Observers welcome! 
If you’re not ready to sign-up a team, join us as an observer. Watch the teams as they tackle some very challenging scenarios – it’s a great learning experience. 
 
To sign up your team or as an observer, call us at 800-647-7626.
 
Rescue Challenge Spotlight - Valero Wilmington 

Chad Roberson Named Interim Director of Training

Friday, March 29, 2019
“My drive is to help us get better.”
Growing up in a small northern Louisiana town, Chad Roberson admits he was “around the fire service a lot.” His father was a volunteer firefighter and from a young age, Chad understood what a life of service looked like. From age 16, Chad served as a volunteer firefighter at the same department where his father worked. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, Chad became a full-time firefighter with the St. George Fire Protection District.

Chad excelled in the Fire District, working his way up to Captain, District Chief, and eventually Assistant Chief – the role he serves today. He also returned to school for two additional degrees: an associate degree in Fire Science from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University.Chad Roberson Named Interim Director of Training

Chad’s first introduction to Roco Rescue was as a student in the mid-1990s, when he took a training course funded by his fire department. After taking a few more courses, his instructors invited him to apply for a job, and he began his career journey with Roco Rescue working part-time on one of the company’s contracted safety and rescue teams.

In 2001, Chad completed an instructor development course and has been teaching for Roco Rescue ever since. In 2007, he was promoted to Chief Instructor and now serves as the Interim Director of Training.

A Career Steeped in Service
In his role at Roco Rescue, Chad draws heavily from his experience with the St. George Fire Protection District, where he leads technical rescue operations, manages vehicle, trench, structural collapse, rope, confined space, flood water, and boat rescue, as well as hazardous materials training. His exposure to technical rescue on the municipal side has benefitted his work at Roco Rescue. In his new role as Interim Director of Training he oversees all aspects of the training program, including instructor recruitment and development, curriculum updates, assessment and evaluation of both new equipment and new rescue techniques, and modifications to the Roco Training Center. He also spends a significant amount of time speaking with customers about course content, private training and custom classes.

His experience with the Fire District has also enhanced his people management skills. “When it comes down to managing people, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in,” he says. “Management, leadership and supervision all go hand in hand. I’ve had a number of great mentors and role models, and the things I’ve learned at the fire department have been very useful to me at Roco Rescue, and vice versa.”

It is especially important, he says, to develop the ability to teach to a broad range of learning styles. “Everybody has a different learning style,” he says. “To be a successful instructor you have to understand this and be able to step back and think of different approaches; you’ve got to be versatile in your communication style and method.”

"Our instructors at Roco Rescue are especially skilled at recognizing and adapting to each student’s learning style,” says Chad, “and this is a key factor that sets us apart. It exemplifies how we care about our students and work hard to help them become great rescuers. It starts at the top, with the leadership style and the example Miss Kay sets. We treat everyone like family, whether we are training a team, doing a refresher course for a long-time customer, or providing a service at an industrial plant.”

Chad also cites the instructors’ willingness to encourage students to problem-solve and be versatile in their approach to performing a rescue, as something that differentiates Roco Rescue. “There are multiple ways to get things done,” he says. “There is no one correct way to do a rescue. But you need to make sure it’s an efficient process. We tell our students, ‘this is just one way to get it done.’ That sets us apart as a company as well.”

His “Why”
When asked why he has devoted his entire career to rescue, Chad’s answer is simple. “My drive is to help us get better,” he says.

“In Louisiana, we’ve seen so many natural disasters. And when that happens, you really see the areas for improvement and the need to help people out. Managing the incidents and being involved in process improvement to make rescues more successful and efficient – that’s my drive.”

What’s Ahead
Currently Chad’s priority is to expand Roco Rescue’s instructor base; a large part of his time is spent implementing strategies to search for and train the best of the best to join the team. He will also be playing a significant role in planning the annual Roco Rescue Challenge, a team performance evaluation in which rescuers put their skills to the test in a variety of realistic, hands-on scenarios.  

Keeping up to date on developments in rescue technology and evaluating equipment to ensure it is optimized for both comfort and safety is one of the most critical parts of his job. “Technology is driving just about every industry worldwide, and it’s no different in the rescue business or with the equipment we use,” he says. 
 
Finally, he is excited about finding new and better ways to listen to the voice of the customer in order to keep improving everything Roco does. 

Chad is trained extensively in executive leadership and planning, technical rescue operations, hazardous materials management, and more. He holds a COSS (Certified Occupational Safety Specialist) certification and a CFO (Chief Fire Officer designation). He is a certified EMT and is certified by the American Heart Association in Basic Life Support. He received accolades from the St. George Fire Protection District as Chief Officer of the Year in 2016 and a Unit Commendation Award in 2014. He is also a sought-after speaker, having presented at first responder training conferences nationwide, and his work has been published in a variety of national publications.

In his spare time, Chad enjoys spending time with his two young sons, coaching their basketball teams, and taking them on trips to visit family. He attends St. Jude Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, and he is a big fan of the LSU Tigers.
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