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Members of the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department, assisted by out-of-county fire department members, worked tirelessly Thursday to recover three bodies from a collapsed trench on a Huntingtown farm.

Fortunately, the “bodies” were mannequins that had been buried as part of a special training for a trench rescue course being hosted by the Huntingtown VFD.

Senior department member and driver Kenneth Miller, who was one of the instructors for the rescue course, said Calvert County had never had a specialized trench class for firefighters to attend. About six months ago, the Huntingtown VFD learned it was the responding department to “every single technical rescue” in the county, said Miller, who has been a member of the fire service for 19 years.

“We’ve always been, for the last 10 years, certified in confined space, but none of the other disciplines,” Miller said, meaning that many volunteers were certified to make rescues of people trapped in a confined space. The other disciplines firefighters need to be certified in to make rescues are swift water, rope rescue technician, trench, building collapse and hazmat technician.

“We took it upon ourselves as volunteers … to go ahead and get some people certified in the other technical rescues,” starting with trench rescue, Miller said. “We’re broadening our span from confined space to trench and eventually will learn structural collapse as well.”

About 21 Huntingtown VFD members participated in the course, Miller said, and a few people from out-of-county departments signed up for the course as well. John Lyon, of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, was the main instructor for the course, which began Sept. 10, Miller said, adding that Lyon was assisted by instructors Casey Snoke and Mike Tenaglia.

The students showed up to Gibson Farm in Huntingtown at 8 a.m. Thursday for the practical exam part of the course. Richard Gibson Jr., a member of the Huntingtown VFD, and his family donated the use of their farm, equipment and time to help set up Thursday’s scenario, Miller said. A backhoe was used to dig out a large trench, which was eventually filled with about 1,000 gallons of water prior to the students’ arrival, Miller said.

When the students arrived on the farm, they were told that a utility crew was digging a trench and county officials, in the scenario, came out to view the work when they saw that the trench had apparently collapsed, potentially on top of several workers. A “risk analysis” was done, Miller said, and the students found that there was no movement and no one calling for help, so the situation was deemed as a recovery, not a rescue.

After they were apprised of the situation, the students used a water pump, supplied by Calvert County Highway Maintenance, to remove the water as part of the training, Miller said.

Once the water was removed, firefighters placed wooden panels around the entire trench to keep it from collapsing when they went down into it, Miller said.

“Before we can make an entry, that has to be done to prevent any further collapse,” he said.

To search for the victim’s bodies, some firefighters got down in the trench and other members outside of the trench lowered buckets tied to ropes down to them. The buckets were used to dig dirt out of the trench to try to recover the victims.

Prior to the Thursday hands-on training, the students participated in between 12 and 15 hours of lecture. Steve Kling, battalion chief of the Prince George’s County Fire Department, said he learned the three levels of rescue in the lecture course, which are awareness, securing the area and operations.

While he knew a bit about trench rescue prior to the course, uncertified members are only allowed to perform rescues in trenches up to 8 feet deep, and the certification would allow him to perform rescues in deeper trenches. Kling said the course would help him “further his knowledge” about trench rescues, which would be beneficial once he is transferred to the department’s technical services division.

“That’s what they do, they handle confined space collapses, trench rescues, things like that, so this will kind of give me a little bit broader knowledge of what needs to be done,” Kling said.

District of Columbia Fire Department member Jon Hope, 35, said he wanted to take the course because he is trying to become a member of the special operations rescue squad and trench rescue certification is required.

“This is one of the six disciplines that you have to have” to be part of the special operations squad, he said, adding that he has already completed the rope rescue technician, hazmat technician and confined space certifications.

Hope said the trench rescue course helped him “respect the trench, as far as the dangers that are associated with it.” He said the course helped him learn the different types of trench collapses that can happen and the differences between soil and how that can affect a rescue, as well.

Huntingtown VFD volunteer Andrew Cook, Miller’s son, said he has been a volunteer for about seven years and wanted to take the course because it looked interesting. Cook, 22, said he learned a lot from the course and felt prepared if he ever needed to rescue or recover someone from a trench. He said he also feels comfortable that he will be able to save people without putting his fellow crew members in danger.

“They volunteered because they understand the workload and the physical endurance,” Miller said of the students. “This isn’t going in and squirting water on a fire and walking out and saying, ‘OK we’re done, rack up and go home.’ This is a lot of dedication, a lot of heart and soul.”