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Team trains to rescue firefighters during wildland fires

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By Deborah Swearingen

Fighting California’s Rough Fire in 2015 inspired Capt. Brendan Finnegan to bring a rapid extraction module support team to West Metro Fire Rescue.

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The REMS team — launched through West Metro’s wildland and technical rescue teams — is specially trained and assigned to rescue firefighters injured during wildland fires. Finnegan, who is a wildland coordinator for West Metro, and another West Metro employee saw the benefit of such a team firsthand while assisting in California, the state where the program was originally developed.

“We both got to see how it works and were part of an evacuation of a burned firefighter,” Finnegan said. “We saw that concept. We saw the need. We saw how it worked, and we brought the idea back here to West Metro.”

The idea has been in the works since Finnegan’s return to Colorado three years ago. Last week, the fire department moved one step closer to making Finnegan’s dream a reality. On May 21, a team of West Metro firefighters scaled the west side of the hogback in Ken-Caryl Valley to brush up on its technical rope rescue skills.

West Metro’s REMS team is scheduled to go online Friday and will become the third of its kind in the state, according to Finnegan.

“They’re going to be ready sooner than they predicted,” Deputy Chief Scott Rogers told West Metro’s board after updating them on the status of the department’s newest addition.

Rapid intervention teams have existed for years in the structural fire world. These teams train to rescue firefighters who are lost, trapped or injured in a building.

Likewise, the rapid extraction module support team would help rescue firefighters — just those injured, trapped or lost in a wildland interface. Additionally, it’s possible the team could run across residents in need of help.

“Anybody that’s in our responsibility area, we are obviously going to help,” Finnegan said.

However, as the fire grows and evacuations and closures are put in place, the chance of firefighters needing help becomes more likely.

The REMS team will be available locally to report to any fire deemed necessary by an incident commander.

Overall, Finnegan feels the team is a great resource for West Metro and its nearly 280,000 residents. Whether firefighters are fighting a fire or rescuing a downed mountain biker and hiker, West Metro is constantly working to stay on top and improve its capabilities.

“Everything we do is for the citizens of West Metro,” Finnegan said. “ … We have the resources that are highly trained and experienced and motivated that want to be a part of that solution.”

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.