When fires and wrecks happen, the men and women of Huntsville Fire & Rescue rush to the scene and extinguish the flames and render aid to the injured. It’s when more complex emergencies occur that the department’s Heavy Rescue Team swings into action.
“We’re like the handyman of the emergency services world,” said Capt. Allen Painter, an Owens Cross Roads native and Heavy Rescue Team (HRT) member. “The team does a little bit extra on top of what we already do as firefighters.”
Specifically, the HRT responds to emergencies like confined space entrapment, trench collapses, water and wilderness rescues, roper rescues, structural failures and storm-related search and rescue. Because of members’ specific technical training, the team enhances response capabilities for these types of emergencies.
“Last week, we had a couple of hikers get lost in the woods,” said Painter, who has been with Huntsville Fire & Rescue 14 years. “We train for that and do a lot of mapping, so we were able to go down and find them and get them out.”
Tools of the trade
Being a part of the HRT is a unique experience because not only do firefighters get to play a vital role in a critical situation, but they also have access to a cache of technical equipment. For example, there are stabilization struts that can be used on everything from a vehicle to a collapsed building.
“They can lift thousands of pounds and hold it in place,” Painter said.
Then there’s also rope and climbing equipment that would be used to help get a stranded person off a cliff or out of a ravine.
In the case of a substantial building collapse like the one that occurred June 24, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, such tools would be a necessity. Because of their knowledge and training, the local HRT is part of a larger network that could be deployed anywhere in the state after a catastrophic emergency like a structural collapse or severe weather outbreak.
At some point in your career as a firefighter, you’re going to make a change in someone’s life that is a life-changing event for them.”
Calvin Hadden, an Augusta, Georgia, native who joined Huntsville Fire & Rescue in 2005, said he likes being a part of the HRT because it’s all about meeting challenges and solving problems.
“The situations are always different,” he said. “Even when you train, it’s hard to recreate what happened in a particular situation.”
One of those challenges is continually refining processes and improving on what the team already does. Hadden, who serves as a special operations training officer, said he wants the team to exceed expectations across the board.
“We have so many disciplines, but it’s important that we not get spread too thin,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re great at what we’re doing now.”
More than a job
Both Hadden and Painter joined Huntsville Fire & Rescue because they had a simple desire to help people. Painter, who joined the department at 20 years old, always had a fascination with fire departments.
“When I was a child, we lived right off (U.S.) 431,” he said. “I heard a wreck outside, and me and my mom drove down to see if we could help. By the time I got there, the emergency folks were pulling up at the same time. It was cool to see how they worked together.”
Hadden worked in construction before joining the department. He not only enjoys the constant challenges of being a firefighter, but also the processes involved in making the job better and safer for everyone.
“If you like helping people, you can help someone in their greatest time of need,” Hadden said. “You can be the one who makes that difference.”
Huntsville Fire & Rescue is now hiring firefighters and public safety dispatchers. Painter said anyone who wants to make a positive difference in their community should consider applying.
“At some point in your career as a firefighter, you’re going to make a change in someone’s life that is a life-changing event for them,” he said. “You always hope it turns out for the good, but you just want to be there for those people. Firefighters will be quick to tell you this is one the best jobs you can do”
To learn more, visit joinhuntsvillefireandrescue.com.