SCOTIA, N.Y. – New York Air National Guard firefighters assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing are ready at a moment’s notice to respond to an aircraft incident or help out a local fire department.
But the 109th firefighters now also include three Airmen specially trained to save lives when floodwaters rise.
Master Sgt. Brian Kissinger, Master Sgt. Brian Devlin, and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Marchand completed a four-day course on shoreline operations and rescue techniques.
The course, taught by the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services at its Swift Water and Flood Training Center in Oriskany, certifies graduates in fast-water flood rescue techniques.
Kissinger, Devlin, and Marchand are the first Air Guard firefighters among the state’s five wings to get this flood response certification.
“I’ve been a fireman for almost 30 years, and it was the toughest training I’ve ever been through,” Kissinger said.
The Swift Water and Flood Training Center, or just SWIFT for short, is like a water park on steroids. The training center features a three-acre pond, a flood simulator that allows for training in flooded streets and buildings, and a swift water channel to simulate currents of a river.
The flood simulator has three pumps that can churn 30,000 gallons of water to create a variety of realistic, high intensity, flooding hazards, according to DHSES. Trainees learn to save drowning or stranded victims and how to maneuver themselves and boats in fast-moving currents.
The 109th firefighters trained in how to navigate currents, use rescue rope and high-line rope techniques and how to rescue victims from the water.
The three are now part of the New York State Flood Incident Strike Team.
Kissinger has been serving at the 109th as a fireman for 19 years and is also a full-time fireman for Saratoga Springs Fire Department. He became swift water certified two years ago through the 109th Fire Department.
“As a firefighter, you train to save someone’s life, all of the training and hours put in pay off when we are tasked and ready to be there if we are needed,” Kissinger said.
The 109th Airlift Wing decided to certify firefighters on swift water rescue skills as part of their mission of providing assets for urban search and rescue, Kissinger explained.
Under the National Incident Management System, which details how federal, state and local agencies work together in emergencies, Air National Guard fire departments can participate in urban search and rescue to support local governments, Kissinger said.
Since New York has plenty of mountain streams, lakes, and rivers, flooding is likely to be part of any emergency when a hurricane or tropical storm hits, he said.
Kissinger said there was a need for swift water trained personnel for New York’s Task Force 2 urban search and rescue team, so they volunteered to be a part of the team.
Task Force 2 is made up of New York firefighters, state troopers, Department of Environmental Conservation workers, other 109th Airlift Wing members, and other emergency agencies and is mobilized for incidents in upstate New York.
The plan is to have 12-16 New York National Guard Airmen certified in the next couple of years.
“Flood rescue is becoming more and more common in New York, and local departments don’t have the equipment or training that we have to assist them,” said Marchand, who serves as urban search and rescue team lead. He has spent 13 years as a 109th Airlift Wing firefighter and seven years on the Scotia fire department.
Marchand, Kissinger, and Devlin were placed on standby Aug. 4 when Tropical Storm Isaias threatened New York.
The Department of Emergency Services put Task Force 2 on alert and the three Airmen reported with other swift water rescuers to the Task Force 2 Command center in Guilderland in case of flooding.
“We see a need that the community has and we love to help people,” said Marchand.