SOUTHINGTON — Local firefighters have depended on the expertise of surrounding towns when rescuing climbers hurt on Ragged Mountain or other cliffs.
That will change next year, when new training and equipment, funded with a federal grant, gives more Southington firefighters the required certification in cliff rescues.
Meriden, Middletown and Hamden have firefighters proficient with ropes and other mountain climbing gear to get trapped or injured climbers to safety.
“Right now, we’re dependent on them,” said Battalion Chief Glenn Dube.
Thousands of climbers visit Ragged Mountain every year from all over the northeast. There’s usually one cliff rescue every year.
In June, a 31-year-old Providence man fell from the rock face at Ragged Mountain and suffered head injuries. Fellow climbers helped him to the bottom of the cliff.
Firefighter Kevin Guy said rescues sometimes involve getting victims off the cliff face with ropes, pulleys and harnesses.
In addition to the equipment, firefighters need the training to safely climb and rescue.
The department recently replaced aging ropes and other gear. Lt. Andy Polzella said firefighters have basic rope rescue training, but would need further instruction for vertical rescues.
Not only do firefighters need to know how to safely haul up a victim, they need to have backup lines in case something goes wrong.
Rope rescues require a lot of manpower, Polzella said, so it’s important for many department members to have the same training.
One line might require four firefighters, for example, and the second backup line would require the same number.
“It’s a very labor-intensive operation,” he said.
Nathan Wilson, Board of Fire Commissioners chairman, said the mutual aid agreements with surrounding towns has been working well.
Getting Southington firefighters more training, however, does allow them to respond more quickly.
A $165,000 FEMA grant will provide training over nearly three weeks to certify 40 firefighters in technical rescues.
They’ll train at locations around town, including Ragged Mountain, starting in March.
Firefighter Daniel Comen wrote the grant. It will require about $16,000 worth of matching funds from the town.
The grant is very competitive, he said, and other towns in the state also received money.
“We were one of the highest grant amounts,” Comen said
. “We recognize we have a need in town, especially Ragged Mountain. It’s one of the most popular spots in the northeast, people come from all around for it.”
Mountain rescues are infrequent but Polzella said the knowledge and equipment has other uses.
Most commonly, people are trapped in cars that have rolled down highway embankments or riverbanks.
Ropes and a special stretcher are used to haul them to a waiting ambulance.
“Yes, it’s for wilderness-type stuff but you can apply it to other things,” Polzella said.
“There are a million uses for the ropes.”
The department has a firefighter, Chris Fusco, who is a mountain climber. Polzella said he’s been instrumental in helping the department update its gear.
Dube said the training has been a need for years but that it’s never been affordable.
“It’s a big increase in our capabilities. It’s a good thing,” he said.