Hays area firefighters remember 9/11 by training for the future

By Randy Gonzales
Special to the Hays Daily News

Local and area firefighters prepared for an emergency response Saturday on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Lt. Tim Detrixhe of the Hays Fire Department, who helped organize the exercise called Operation Western Partnership, said the training date was not by accident.

Before the all-day drills started Saturday at the Hays Fire Department’s training facility, organizers gave a talk to those assembled about the significance of the day.

Detrixhe had the timeline of key moments of that day 20 years ago on his phone, and when an alert showed up the drills were paused to allow for a moment to reflect.

“Technical rescue as a discipline started after the Oklahoma City bombing (in 1995),” Detrixhe said. “After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) it really ramped up.”

Firefighter emergency response teams from four departments in Hays and Goodland conducted drills on Saturday in Hays.

On 9/11, 343 New York City firefighters died in the line of duty.

“Let’s carry on the work those guys did, the work they put in, the sacrifice they made,” Detrixhe said. “Can anyone be fully prepared for everything? I really don’t think so. But we can think of all the possibilities that can happen and prepare for that.”

On Saturday, the Hays Fire Department and Ellis County Rural Fire Department trained together with the Goodland Fire Department and Sherman County Rural Fire Department for the first time. The 24 firefighters assembled represented emergency response teams for the western and eastern end of the region. Saturday’s simulation was for a tornado emergency.

Firefighters from Hays and Goodland team up in a drill during Saturday’s exercise at the Hays training facility. The firefighters were simulating venting fresh air into a building containing chemicals, which was struck by a tornado.

“The people out at Goodland are very well prepared,” Detrixhe said. “They are very organized and very competent and professional; so are ours. To see two groups of very professional people come together who never met each other and work together, that was really neat to see.”

The Hays response team usually drills every three months. In October, a grain bin simulator is being brought to town so the team can train for a rescue operation with that scenario. The team trains for situations such as structural collapses, cave-ins and high-angle rescues.

The teams in Hays and Goodland are ready if an emergency response is required in the region.

“If there’s an event that happens anywhere in northwest Kansas, if it’s at their end, we’re on standby, and vice versa,” Detrixhe said. “If it’s in the middle, we both start out to see who can get there first.”

Detrixhe said firefighters got there first on 9/11 and saved lives.

“People often associate 9/11 with the towers falling down, but on the other side of that was the greatest rescue operation ever undertaken,” Detrixhe said. “All the firefighters that went in the buildings that day saved thousands, if not tens of thousands lives, getting people out before they came down.”

What firefighters trained for Saturday had some similarities to 9/11.

“The work that went on at Ground Zero was along the lines of what we did (Saturday) -- structural collapse,” Detrixhe said. “What we do is to try to practice for the most likely scenario in our vicinity.”

With the Hays and Goodland departments conducting exercises together for the first time, Detrixhe was pleased with the outcome.

“It went seamlessly,” Detrixhe said. “It was very smooth.”