Just hours after their colleagues responded to an overnight fatal accident in which a vehicle was pinned beneath a tractor trailer on Interstate-70 in Woodlawn, volunteer firefighters from all across Baltimore County were taking part in a "Big Rig Rescue" training session on Saturday, reinforcing methods that help them succeed in low-frequency, high-risk disasters that can occur on county highways.
"It's an opportunity to use equipment that they don't use every day," Division Chief Mike Robinson said. "Given all the interstates we have, county wide, there's a lot of these incidents, and it's going to be the special events that require these rescues."
County volunteer firefighters spent all day on Oct. 22, at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium, methodically working through the most dangerous situations that they might ever encounter, with scenarios including school buses and trailers on top of cars, overturned cement mixers, and a tanker truck resting on a vehicle.
The county is considered a hub of interstate highways — interstates 83, 95, 695 and 70 all run through parts of the count. Incidents such as those staged on Saturday are isolated, but still important enough for the fire department's Rescue Committee to spend six months planning the drills.
"If we get 15 to 20 of these each year, that's a lot," Robinson said. "Ninety percent of our entrapments, we can grab the Jaws of Life."
"But something like this," he continued, motioning toward a group from Pikesville stabilizing an overturned cement mixer, "this can take an hour or two."
With the opportunity to do such unique training, many of the volunteers on Saturday were fully engaged with each other, communicating and talking through each potential move so that when the time comes and lives are in danger at a real incident, they'll be ready.
"We've run these types of rescues before, but it's not something I've had the opportunity to personally train for, so I'm glad they put this together for us," said Steve Jagodzinski of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Company.
Jim Zour, acting officer for the Providence Volunteer Fire Company, said his crew was also glad for the opportunity to practice before they had to execute such maneuvers in the field.
"When you do something you aren't going to do every day, that's when someone can get hurt," Zour said.
Because of the danger, more than just the firefighters were involved in the drills.
Steve Weatherby, a Towson resident who is a captain in the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company, emphasized the importance of the local towing companies' involvement in the drills.
"We typically don't speak their lingo," Weatherby said. "So here, we learn their lingo, and they learn ours. It's a really nice merger of efforts."
In many of the drills, firefighters were told that the tow trucks wouldn't be arriving until later. Nevertheless, the tow truck drivers — many of whom have seen it all on the highways, and know their equipment better than anyone else — worked with the firefighters as they formulated their plans.
"These guys work seamlessly with us," Robinson said.
In addition to rescue workers and tow truck drivers, the drill involved representatives from the State Highway Administration, as well the Urban Rescue Unit from the local career fire department, Texas Station in Cockeysville.
But for the most part, volunteers were getting the hands-on training that isn't always available to them.
"This is one of the few volunteer-exclusive trainings that Baltimore County has done," Weatherby said.
Robinson appreciated the training, but said that what ultimately matters is that when the call comes, everyone is ready.
"Career, volunteer, it doesn't matter," Robinson said. "We're all here to do the same thing. This is a great opportunity to get everyone together."