Chris Carlsen: A Familiar Face Steps into a New Role as Director of Training

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

After 21+ years as a municipal firefighter with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, Chris Carlsen is stepping into a new role as Roco Rescue’s Director of Training. He brings to the role a background that includes extensive experience as an instructor, as a developer of curricula, and as a technical rescue program manager.

Chris is a self-proclaimed technical rescue “geek,” and his resume backs this up - he’s trained in everything from fall protection to large animal rescue operations. Although this is a new title for Chris, he’s been part of the Roco Rescue family for many years and is no stranger to Roco’s students and customers. In many ways, it’s a role he’s been preparing for all his life. Chris Carlsen speaks to participants at Roco Rescue Challenge

As the son of a firefighter, Chris got a lot of exposure at an early age to the world of fire and rescue. He gained a sense for how the work of first responders was highly valued and appreciated in his community. This sparked a desire in young Chris to pursue a similar life of service.

At age 23, he graduated from fire training school and joined what was then known as the Albuquerque Fire Department. Today the department is called Albuquerque Fire Rescue, and the name change reflects the changing demands of the job.

“An increasing portion of our calls involve some type of technical rescue,” Chris explains. “There’s a growing need for skills in trench, confined space, rope rescue, tower rescue, building collapse, vehicle extrication, machinery extrication, swiftwater rescue, and so on.”

Learning and Skill Development as a Never-Ending Journey

Chris got his first real taste of technical rescue about 2 years into his career when his department sent him to a Roco Rescue course. He quickly followed that up with a second Roco Rescue course on confined space and rope rescue. At that point, he knew he was passionate about technical rescue and had a desire to develop his skills further. However, his department needed him to step into a role as an instructor of fire suppression, which put his technical rescue development on temporary hold.

“That role made it clear to me that I loved teaching. I think people who love teaching also love learning,  because if you don’t know your topic inside out, you’ll realize it very quickly when teaching it, so you have to enjoy the process of very thoroughly learning about whatever topics you’re teaching.”

After about four years devoting his energy to teaching fire suppression, Chris was able to get back to technical rescue, again with a Roco Rescue course. He quickly became aware of how rusty his knowledge had become.

“It was a clear demonstration of how perishable technical rescue skills are,” he says.

Chris decided that the best way to maintain his technical rescue skills was to put them to good use, so he applied for part-time, off-duty work with Roco Rescue as a member of their standby rescue team. Chris’ work ethic, demeanor and communication skills made him an obvious choice as a candidate for Roco’s instructor development program, and Chris began working as a Roco Rescue instructor – again, during off-shifts from the fire department – back in 2006.

The skills he acquired with Roco Rescue – both as a rescuer and as an instructor - were immediately transferable to his role with Albuquerque Fire Rescue. Chris has been the Technical Rescue Program Manager for the past 8 years, a role in which he ensures the department has all the skills and equipment necessary to perform the many technical rescue sub-specialties required of a large municipal fire-rescue department.

“Rescue work is really a team sport. There are so many different skills required, and sub-specialties, so nobody can be an expert in everything. You need to diversify the training across your team.”

Keep It Safe and Simple!

Not one to get overwhelmed by all that there is to learn and train for, Chris’ interests span all areas of technical rescue as well as rescue team management and skill development.

“I just really enjoy teaching as well as learning new things – and there are always new techniques and new equipment to learn about in rescue. A big part of my job at Roco Rescue is to cut through the clutter and focus our courses on core principles, and identify the methods that are simple, effective and broadly applicable. We use the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Safe and Simple! We’re always evaluating new techniques, new equipment and making sure we’re compliant with the latest standards. We love to innovate and try out new methods, because we’re always trying to find a safer way. But part of that evaluation is the K.I.S.S. rule, so even if it’s a cool idea, if it’s more complicated than it needs to be, if it’s not repeatable or practical, we won’t include it in our curriculum because it wouldn’t serve our customers well.”

Chris’ most recent role managing the technical rescue program at Albuquerque Fire Rescue gives him the perspective of many of the customers he now serves as Roco Rescue’s Director of Training. He knows what it’s like to be responsible for maintaining and developing the skills of a team of technical rescuers. He understands the importance of ensuring a team’s equipment needs are met, and that the team is healthy from a numbers and recruitment standpoint. He knows what it’s like to stand in his customers’ shoes because he has been there.

5 Tips for Managing Technical Rescue Teams

When asked for his thoughts on how to best manage the training needs of a technical rescue team, Chris emphasized these points:

  1. Do a thorough evaluation of your team. This will guide your approach to training. Identify your high-potential team members – those who are hungriest to learn, as opposed to those who are content to get to a basic level and maintain. Feed the hungry ones with additional training opportunities. If your team has skill deficiencies in particular areas, they are your best people to invest in.
  2. Work on building a culture of growth, where every team member seeks out opportunities to develop, and where team members are supportive of each other. It’s better to have a team of squeaky wheels who are constantly asking for additional training than a team that’s passive, even if they’re easier to manage.
  3. Training frequency will vary greatly, depending on the make-up of the team. Teams with high turnover or lots of new members probably need to do team exercises once a month. Most teams probably need to train once a quarter.
  4. Team training is distinct from individual practice. Individuals should be putting their hands on the equipment as often as possible. This means going to the gear locker and checking out some rope, cams and pulleys to build a mechanical advantage system in your spare time so that you know it cold. Team training sessions shouldn’t get bogged down by individuals who consistently struggle to execute their role.
  5. Variety in training is very important. No two rescue scenarios are the same, so training the same way all the time gives teams a false sense of security. That said, the scenarios don’t have to be radically different all the time – seemingly small changes to the scenario can add a lot of variety. Try adding one additional corner to navigate during your confined space rescue exercise. Or try the same rescue but with the lights off to simulate a power outage. Or work a scenario on air, and designate your strongest team member as the victim, and see how the team picks up the slack.

Paying it Forward

Chris also makes frequent mention of the high caliber people he’s worked with during his career as a firefighter and rescuer. “I’m very blessed to have always worked with great teammates and for great managers. Many people have steered me in the right direction, and helped me learn, grow and advance in my career. That statement applies to both my Albuquerque Fire Rescue family and my Roco Rescue family. I think it’s one of the benefits of this line of work – just lots of really great people. It definitely creates a desire in me to pay it forward.” 

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Roco Rescue One Of "America’s Safest Companies" According To EHS Today

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dallas, TX – November 11, 2019 – Roco Rescue, a world leader in technical rescue training and a provider of industrial rescue services, was named one of America’s Safest Companies by EHS Today. The award was presented November 6th at EHS Today’s 2019 Safety Leadership Conference in Dallas.

EHS Today AwardThe companies selected to this prestigious list have shown a commitment to environmental health and safety (EHS) efforts that span from the executive team through all levels of the organization. This includes documented evidence of:

  • comprehensive safety training programs
  • an EHS process that involves all employees
  • incident prevention as a foundation of their program
  • clear communications about safety
  • injury and illness rates that demonstrate safety leadership in their industry
  • an innovative approach to safety challenges
  • data capture that measures and substantiates the benefits of the safety process

“It is such an honor to be recognized by EHS Today as one of America’s Safest Companies,” says Roco Rescue’s President and CEO Kay Goodwyn. “We understand that our company’s success is based on safe operations every single day, and I’m proud of all of our personnel who help us achieve our mission.”

The editors of EHS Today noted Roco Rescue’s proven track record with zero injuries and zero general liability claims as evidence of the efficacy of its safety processes. Roco Rescue trains approximately 3,000 students each year in highly-technical and potentially dangerous activities; and in 2018 and during the first two quarters of 2019, Roco Rescue conducted more than 1,200 Standby Rescue assignments at industrial and municipal sites, logging over 140,000 hours, all while maintaining a track record of zero incidents.

The editors of EHS Today also noted Roco Rescue’s dedication to safe practices for its employees, as demonstrated by the emphasis placed on safety training and continued evaluation of safety practices for programs and equipment, which includes daily tailgate safety meetings before each job assignment.

Tim Brad EHS TodayEHS Today commended Roco Rescue for adopting safety procedures that go above and beyond OSHA, ANSI, and industry standards. For example, with regards to Rope Rescue Operations, Roco Rescue exceeds NFPA 1006 and NFPA 1983 by adopting the ANSI Z359.1 standard for fall protection.

In addition, participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program as a VPP Star worksite since 2013 entails development and continuous improvement of safety and health programs that go above and beyond OSHA’s standard requirements.

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US Coast Guard Warning Underscores the Dangers of Confined Space Entry

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

By Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator

The US Coast Guard issued a warning on the dangers of confined spaces after three crew members died of asphyxiation on a drilling rig. Although this tragedy occurred during a maritime operation and does not fall under the OSHA general industry nor the construction industry standards for permit required confined spaces, OSHA’s 1915 Subpart B does have clear guidance regarding confined and enclosed spaces and other dangerous atmospheres in shipyard employment. Additionally, 1915 Subpart B Appendix B provides the US Coast Guard requirements for an authorized person in lieu of a marine chemist. The USCG Safety Alert does not mention any member of the crew being either a marine chemist or a USCG authorized person assigned to evaluate the atmospheric conditions of the space. 

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This tragedy follows an all-too-common pattern of multi-fatality incidents where subsequent workers died in an attempt to rescue the original victim. While it is clear that there were considerations and provisions to ventilate the toxic gases that were either present in the space or were introduced into the space, it is obvious that the passive ventilation attempts fell well short of what was required. OSHA, ANSI, and the USCG all provide easily accessible and clear guidance regarding working in confined spaces.

Please take it upon yourself to ask anyone and everyone that you encounter that may be entering confined spaces: "Does your employer have a permit required confined space program that is at least compliant with OSHA?" It just may save their life. 

For a deeper understanding of OSHA’s requirements for permit required confined space rescue, including the factors that should be considered for determining whether non-entry is feasible, check out our article, “Confined Space Rescue: Non-Entry or Entry Rescue?” To learn how teams can share responsibility for risk-assessment and mitigation, check out "Safe Confined Space Entry - A Team Approach."

Click here to read the news article about this incident and the USCG Safety Alert.

 

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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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 
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Alex Reckendorf Named as Roco's General Manager

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Alex Reckendorf Named as Roco's General ManagerAs General Manager for Roco Rescue, Alex’s primary role can be described as that of a visionary, where he collaborates with owner and President Kay Goodwyn to develop the company’s vision – and perhaps also as an air traffic controller, where he works to ensure that other company leadership receives the support and resources needed to put that vision into action.

During his six years with the Air Force, Alex served as a Pararescueman (PJ), where he took courses with Roco Rescue. In was in these courses, that he discovered a passion for teaching technical rescue. He worked part time with Roco’s Tactical Mobile Training Unit until he later received a full-time job offer. He has been with Roco full-time since 2010.

Alex splits his time outside the office between Maine and Florida, where he enjoys being outdoors with his wife and two young sons.

"Yes, this is for me."

This is how Alex Reckendorf responded when a friend pointed him toward technical rescue as a career – a calling that he has found deeply fulfilling since 2002.

From an early age, Alex was service-minded. He enlisted in the United States Air Force immediately after finishing high school, and his six years of active duty included multiple deployments with the Pararescuemen (PJs). Alex notes that many still picture PJs performing traditional rescues by “hopping off a helicopter and picking someone up,” but that simple mission profile has become a highly skilled discipline, leading him to a long career in tactical rescue instruction.

Alex was first introduced to Roco Rescue in 2006 when he attended a training class in Montana – a three-day tactical course on deep mineshaft rescue – to hone his skills as a PJ. Just over one year later, he enrolled in Roco Rescue’s two-week tactical course, which he describes as “bread and butter” skills training for Pararescuemen: confined space rescue, high angle training, rope access, urban climbing, structural collapse rescue, and vehicle extrication.

Upon returning from his last deployment with the PJs, Alex got out of the Air Force and charted a path towards becoming a firefighter. He changed his plans, however, when a phone call to a former instructor and mentor at Roco Rescue turned into a job offer.

A Passion for Training and Teaching

Throughout his career with Roco Rescue, Alex’s role has evolved. He started as an assistant tactical instructor and until recently still occasionally served as a lead instructor for Roco’s various tactical training programs, including confined space training, structural collapse rescue, rope rescue training, climbing, high-angle/mountain rescue training, and other forms of technical rescue. Throughout the years, his work has entailed setting up highline traverse systems over gorges, rappelling down sky-high cargo containers on vessels, and guiding students through exercises in World War II warships to practice confined space rescue tactics. He particularly loves working with experienced Pararescuemen, in part because, “…we learn, too. They have excellent questions…Then we get into problem-solving, and that’s where I have the most fun.”

In recent years, Alex has spent most of his time on a variety of managerial duties. He handled proposals and pricing, managed large government contracts, and was deeply involved in both the finance and human resources functions of the company. While most of these are considered back-office activities, Alex knows from his days as a PJ that success often depends on the planning and administrative work that happens behind the scenes almost as much as the efforts of those on the front lines.

And as his managerial responsibilities have grown, Alex’s love for teaching rescue has grown to include other ways that Roco serves rescuers…and those they protect. “Whether we’re training a rescue team or providing one of our own standby teams for a client facility, our commitment to emergency responders at all levels ultimately, including our own rescuers, makes sure that people return safely to their families each night. From the welder at a plant to the infantryman in the Middle East, Roco exists to bring them home safe.”

Rescue as Prevention

Alex summarizes Roco Rescue’s mission in one word: Safety. “We do that through the education of the rescuers,” he says. “Keeping them safe, and helping them keep the people they’re looking after safe.”

When asked what differentiates Roco Rescue from other technical rescue companies he says, simply, “our people.”

“We’ve got some really unique, experienced people. All of that gets distilled into our training.” While there are other technical rescue companies, Alex believes people continue to come to Roco Rescue because “we are better at keeping people safe. We don’t just fill a square. We make rescuers better at what they do.”

Speaking specifically about Roco Rescue’s Contracted Safety and Rescue Teams (CSRT), Alex says, “We really don’t do many rescues, and that’s the point -- because we work to prevent them.”

And it’s no secret that Roco Rescue does this extremely well. In his experience teaching tactical training courses, Reckendorf has witnessed incredible success stories. When a PJ team that was training on the U.S.S. Alabama happened to witness a ship worker fall and injure himself, the Roco Rescue students were able to lower the man from the ship’s platform and call for medical help. You can read about that rescue here. And when Roco Rescue-trained PJs deployed to Haiti after the devastating earthquakes a few years ago, a responding FEMA team wrote letters lauding their skill and dedication.

Alex’s Vision for Roco Rescue

Alex anticipates tremendous growth for Roco Rescue’s industrial rescue programs in the coming years, particularly given the continued focus on assembling strong teams for contracted safety/rescue work, as well as mobile training teams. Providing the highest caliber training for military and municipal teams across the country will also remain an area of focus. “We’re constantly updating our course content,” he says, “tweaking our equipment kits and modifying our techniques to be safer and more efficient.”

Alex also hopes to call greater attention to Roco Rescue’s refresher courses. “We get great reviews,” he says, but he emphasizes how important it is for course alumni to return every few years to refresh their training and refine their rescue skills. This is particularly important in a culture where many people don’t understand that rescue skills are perishable – they are “use it or lose it” skills that need to be reviewed and practiced. Alex stresses that this is not a matter of checking a compliance box, but rather, it is about prevention, safety, and ultimately, preserving lives.

More Than a Job

Alex resides in both sunny Florida and snowy Maine, where he enjoys spending time with his wife and two young sons. Beyond that, he deeply enjoys his work with Roco Rescue.

“This is not just a job, for any of us. It’s a whole lot more than that,” he says. “I think our clients know this. We care, from the owner right down to the individual instructor and rescuer.”

Alex recognizes that what it comes down to is, simply, “we are the people we serve.” Many Roco Rescue instructors and rescue crew members are still active firefighters, PJs, or other military reservists, and so they know well and understand the importance of what they are doing. This makes the work they do close to home, relatable, tangible, and critical.

Because of this, Alex says, their work “is, and always will be, near and dear to our hearts.”

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