On Monday, July 9, firefighters from all across Southwest Georgia participated in training to become members of the Georgia Search and Rescue (GSAR) Task Force 2 team. The training was held at the Valdosta Fire Training Facility. The group was evaluated during a physical performance test based on skills they learned during a Confined Space Technical Rescue class.
On Friday, July 6, eight firefighters were tested and on Monday, July 9, twenty-five more participated in the course and testing.
“This is a high demand and disciplined program and a lot of the firefighters out there are leaders within their departments. When they get done they will have 360 hours of training just to get into the program and then they will have the training to keep their certification up,” said Training Division Lt. Justin Ply.
The Confined Space Technical Rescue class was the second class out of a series of four that the group will complete. The first class was Rope Techniques. Following the Confined Space course, the group will participate in two more classes involving Trench and Structural Collapse training
“We need a total of 75 members for our GSAR team so that we can rapidly deploy out in a time of need. We’re getting in that time of year where we will be in high demand, especially during hurricane season. We can’t pull the same people every time and take away from our communities. We need a bank of people built up so that we have multiple resources and can rotate teams if we are on an extended deployment somewhere,” said Lt. Ply.
Most of the work done by GSAR is on a volunteer basis. The team could be deployed for several weeks at a time, if not longer. In past years, the team has responded to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Baker County tornadoes, and the wildfires in Ware and Atkinson Counties in 2007. More recently, the team was requested during Hurricane Irma and the Adel and Albany tornadoes.
“The GSAR team being in Valdosta right on the Florida line and near the coast is a valuable asset for the State of Georgia. We can deploy out and be out at the coast within four hours to start helping,” said Lt. Ply.
Once the group completes the remaining classes, all 33 firefighters will be added to the GSAR Task Force 2 team. Participating departments include Cairo, Valdosta, Lowndes County, Thomas County, Thomasville, Moultrie, Albany, and Lee County.
“We’ve had the GSAR program going here for more than ten years now. We’ve formed great relationships with other agencies. It’s a great resource for us,” said Lt. Ply.