Madison Heights firefighters secure grant for technical rescues

New gear will improve safety in high-stakes situations

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 29, 2016

 Among the new items purchased with a grant from Firehouse Subs in Warren are pressure regulators, seen here, and airbags and struts used to stabilize trenches so the sidewalls don’t cave in on rescuers and victims.

Among the new items purchased with a grant from Firehouse Subs in Warren are pressure regulators, seen here, and airbags and struts used to stabilize trenches so the sidewalls don’t cave in on rescuers and victims.

Photo by Deb Jacques


MADISON HEIGHTS — At the Madison Heights Fire Department, certain members train as part of the Technical Rescue Team. They specialize in the most difficult and dangerous of rescues — those involving high-angle rescues, confined spaces, building collapses and trench collapses. It’s a position where a firefighter can find themselves 200 feet off the ground, dangling in the air, in a hole barely wider than their body, with poor lighting and breathing conditions, and someone’s life on the line.  

Now, thanks to a grant from Firehouse Subs in Warren, the Madison Heights team will be better prepared with more modern gear. It’s also compatible with the gear used by first responders from the other seven departments that comprise OAKWAY, an emergency support network.

The other departments are Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Southfield and West Bloomfield, as well as the department serving Waterford, Pontiac and Lake Angelus. 

Firefighter/paramedic Paul Biliti, who applied for the grant, said he was motivated by memories of the tragic trench collapse in Grosse Pointe Woods in October 2014, which resulted in the death of a man who was working on a new home.

“This really stems from that incident,” Biliti said. “We have a lot of construction that goes on in the city (of Madison Heights), with workers often working below grade. So the potential of an incident happening (like the one in Grosse Pointe Woods) is pretty high.”

Biliti trains the other members of the Technical Rescue Team, practicing confined-space scenarios at the Red Oaks Youth Soccer Complex on John R, north of 12 Mile. There’s a manhole there that drops 20 feet into a vault on the hill under the covered pavilion.

The members erect a tripod over the manhole and lower the rescuer into the vault with a special harness supported by a line running through the tripod, managed by a team on the hillside. The rescuer flips upside-down like a trapeze artist in the circus and equips the person being rescued with their own special harness, fastening them with ropes and clasps. The two are then pulled back to the surface via the cable system.

That tripod is able to conform to different types of terrain to support itself. The system has many redundancies built into it, so that if there were a catastrophic failure in one part, other parts would kick in to keep everyone safe. The system can maintain a 10-to-1 safety factor. In other words, if the load were 600 pounds, the system would be able to support 6,000 pounds.

For the Firehouse Subs grant, the team purchased Paratech struts that will help stabilize the sidewalls in a trench collapse situation. The sidewalls are constructed from wood planks carried in the Technical Rescue Team’s trailer, and then the struts are deployed horizontally against them, pressurizing so that the sidewalls are held firmly against the earth preventing further collapse.

The grant also allowed the team to purchase new airbags that will slot into gaps between the sidewalls and the earth. Since the earthen walls are often uneven, this helps fill voids and provides additional stability.

The Firehouse Subs grant was awarded to four departments who shared $60,000. The other three departments are from Woodhaven, Wayne and Washington Township.

Nate Figueroa, a member of Madison Heights’ Technical Rescue Team, said that the new gear will allow them to work more smoothly with other communities, which is important in life-threatening situations where time is of the essence.

“We now have full compatibility with other OAKWAY fire departments since we were the only one not using Paratech, and now we are,” Figueroa said. “Now if we have a trench collapse, and if we’re first on the scene and get started, our setup will be compatible with (the gear of) the others when they arrive. That’s what we gained most by getting these struts and airbags.

“I can’t give enough credit to Paul Biliti,” he added. “He took the initiative to write the grant. He’d already been turned down once for it, but he saw the need and he tried again. He was instrumental in getting this grant.”

Biliti, in turn, thanked Firehouse Subs.

“We’re very appreciative, very thankful,” Biliti said. “This equipment is vital for the safety of our residents and those working in the community, so we’re very thankful for the donation.”