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Rescue teams drill at Lake Bluff water plant

Dave Tisinai (left) fir fighter with Lake Forest Lake Forest Deputy Fire Chief Chris Garrisdiscuss plans for drill by Lake

Dave Tisinai (left), a fir fighter with Lake Forest, and Lake Forest Deputy Fire Chief Chris Garrison discuss plans for a drill by the Lake County and McHenry County fire department special response team at the Joint Action Water Agency. | Curtis Lehmkuhl

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Updated: March 2, 2013 11:38AM

LAKE BLUFF — Specially trained firefighters from Lake and McHenry counties were at the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency on Rockland Road on Thursday to practice some of the most dangerous types of rescues.

Known as the Lake and McHenry County Specialized Response Team, 22 departments with three to four members each showed up at the plant to practice special rescues in a 200-foot-tall, 1.5 million-gallon elevated storage tank.

Lake Forest Deputy Fire Chief Chris Garrison said that when CLCJAWA was first formed in the late 1980s, the organization asked themselves what would happen if they needed to rescue someone from inside the plant that has a total capacity of 5.4 million gallons of water. That scenario spawned the first Confined Space Rescue Team.

Since then, they have also developed the High Angle Rescue Team, Structural Collapse Rescue Team and the Trench Rescue Team. Other specialities also include hazardous materials, dive rescue, wildland firefighting and side scan sonar.

“It’s literally about 500 hours of training to be qualified to do these types of rescues,” Garrison said of the first four specialities. Each requires a 40-hour, one-week course at the University of Illinois. Each department couldn’t afford it, so each department trains a couple of members who are then called out for special rescues. The special equipment is also purchased jointly.

In Thursday’s drill, they were rescuing someone overcome by fumes or lack of oxygen in the storage tank. They would use similar techniques for other businesses, such as Abbott Laboratories, which also has giant vats.

Rescuers have a full mask and air line on when they rappel down into the tank. Then they hook up the victim in a rescue harness and pull him out of the tank.

“These confined spaces are everywhere,” said Garrison.

They also use monitors to check oxygen levels and to detect fumes or gases. During Thursday’s drill, at one point they suspended the operations because their monitors detected low oxygen in the tank.

“We always monitor like it was a real event,” said Garrison. “It was outstanding.”

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