Firefighter training is a monthly process that can require crew members to be jacks of all trades.
"We do it all. We go to the house fires, to medical fires, to all sorts of interesting things," said Capt. Jeremy Rahn, who is based in McSwain. "A lot of times we have to think outside the box."
About two dozen Cal Fire Merced County firefighters and their Los Banos Fire counterparts last week teamed for trench rescue training, which entails measuring and building support walls for a 10-foot trench and walkways around the hole, and reinforcing the walls.
"With the students, we're learning how to build a system or a plan of how we're going to get in there safely and help bring the person out," Rahn said.
The Sept. 28 drill hones skills for the rescue of a city or construction worker whose trench has collapsed or who has encountered some other problem, like a burst water line.
The support walls shore up the sides of a hole while the walkway spreads the firefighters' weight around. That keeps the dirt, especially loose soil, from caving in, Rahn said.
A cubic yard of dirt weighs as much as a car, and 24 inches of soil on a worker's chest could weigh 1,000 pounds. That kind of weight can crush body parts and restrict breathing.
The crew also cordoned off the area to prevent vibrations from passing vehicles, which could cause further cave-ins, and practiced pumping oxygen down to a crush victim.
Rahn said most of the county stations have one firefighter on duty at any one time, so teamwork is essential.
Los Banos Fire Chief Chet Guintini said training with a crew from across the county is "invaluable."
"All the people mesh together, so when we arrive on the scene, they've all worked together," Guintini said. "We can plug one of our guys in with them ... they know exactly what to do and how they work."
The dirt field behind Los Banos' Fire Station No. 1, the exercise site, is registered as a training site with the state, Guintini said.
Both of Cal Fire Merced County's 22½-ton rescue rigs were on site. The 10-foot-10-inch tall and 29-foot-9-inch long rigs carry anything teams would need for a rescue situation -- lumber, power saws, the Jaws of Life and back-up oxygen, among other tools. One rig is based in Los Banos, the other in Delhi.
Capt. Joey Felix of Los Banos' Cal Fire station said the team is working toward Type-2 Urban Search and Rescue status from the California Emergency Management Agency.
"We could be sent out to anywhere throughout the state of California on a disaster," Felix said.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos