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Adamsburg hosts emergency training session

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 9:07 p.m.

There was a time when as many as six fatal vehicle accidents occurred monthly on a 1-mile stretch of Route 30 handled by the Adamsburg and Community Volunteer Fire Department in Hempfield.

"Back in the early '80s, every time it rained we used to drive up there and just wait for the wreck," said Don Thoma, the department's chief for 26 years. "People were dying there all the time."

After Thoma teamed with the local media to stress the need for improvements to the road, PennDOT responded by repaving the eastbound and westbound lanes and installing the current median barrier and guide rails.

"Today, there are far less accidents there, and it was all due to the noise the department made with the help of the media and the public," Thoma said.

To further foster such cooperation, Thoma and department President Ken Wees held a training session Sunday attended by Hempfield Area High School Principal Kathy Charlton; WTAE-TV Westmoreland County Bureau Chief Jennifer Miele; Kenny Ross Ford manager Jim Ross; Louis J. Lazarro, county spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair; and other high-profile community figures.

The three-hour exercise under the sweltering morning sun gave participants a chance to don firefighting gear, including helmets and gas masks worn by department members, and experience simulated fire rescue and vehicle-accident rescue situations firsthand.

"We deal with some of these people on a daily basis, but this is a way for them to really get an understanding of what we do and really get the word out about fire prevention services, too," Thoma said.

For the fire rescue drill, participants climbed a flight of stairs in full gear, then crawled through a room filled with smoke created from the burning of a synthetic oil substance in search of a department member impersonating an unconscious victim.

Face flushed and eyes bulging, Bristol House personal care home owner Sherry Andreo emerged from the drill, pulled a large yellow helmet and gas mask from her wet hair, wiped her brow and lauded the grit, skill and determination that department members must possess to do the real thing.

"I mean that was scary. I have a whole new outlook on what these people do now," Andreo said.

Miele was driving home from Greensburg on Route 30 west in June when she witnessed a fatal vehicle-pedestrian accident. Impressed by watching the department at the scene, she encouraged Thoma to hold yesterday's event.

"I was amazed at how fast they were, so skilled and practiced, yet so calm," Miele said.

In response, drill participants took cracks at ripping the doors off an automobile on department grounds using heavy-duty hydraulic cutting devices employed at crash scenes.

"The one thing about this that is different here is there are not distractions you have at an accident scene," said department firefighter/paramedic Steve Zimmerman. "There's also what we call a 'golden hour' to get someone to the hospital from the scene or they don't have much chance."

Today is the start of National Fire Prevention Week. Thoma told drill participants he hoped they would spread the word about what they learned yesterday to alert the public of the ever-present need for more volunteers.

"People know you're here, but for some of them to come down and really do what we do, I think it really opened up a lot of eyes," Thoma said.

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