How TRUBLUE Can Improve Firefighter Training at Height: An Interview with Arvada Fire Engineer Wyatt Koeniger

My name is Wyatt Koeniger. I'm a 23-year veteran with Arvada Fire Department here in Arvada, Colorado. I’m just going over a couple things with the TRUBLUE system and what we use it for. It's a cool product that's really revolutionized our rope rescue training and firefighter survival training.

We use the TRUBLUEs in a lot of different situations: ladder bailouts and victim removal with either live victims or with a dummy. We use it in our combat challenge and CPAT and anytime we need a safety line in place of a belay. We also use them as a safety system for lowering either a hose or a weighted device in our candidate testing.

What training benefits have you seen while using TRUBLUE?

That's a great question. Last night over dinner we were remarking how far it’s come and what we used to use, with interlocking figure eights and our old safety lines and old belay lines. Now we use the TRUBLUE system as a safety line in those training scenarios. And it has really sped up the efficiency and the safety in that aspect.

It's improved the efficiency in the reps, but also it's improved the safety aspect. You take out the human element or if the person is paying attention on the belay line, right? So you don't have to worry about, ‘Is there proper tension on the safety line?’ ‘Is there slack?’ 'Is there too much tension on the safety line or not enough tension?’ You don't have to worry about that. Or are they even paying attention? Or are they looking at their phone or they're looking over here or doing something else?

That human element is completely removed, and that really helps.

In addition, you don't have to untie any knots. You just walk up, remove the carabiner, and the next person's ready to go. They remove their main line, they remove their safety line, and you can get people through.

Today we went through—oh, man, I don't even know—countless drills in 30 or 40 minutes. In the past, it was untying figure eights or untying knots and then the safety line and then the main line. But now it's just the carabiner. Clip in the carabiner and the next person goes through.

Beyond safety and efficiency, are there any other benefits to training on TRUBLUE?

Just today I tried a new system on the self-bailout where I self-rescue. There's no ladder and I have to roll out of the window. My captain had his device and said, ‘Why don't you try mine?’ Well, it was a modified controlled descent device. I wasn't familiar with the device, but there's no way really to try it until you go out the window.

Knowing that the TRUBLUE system is up there, regardless of what I am attached to on my main line, I know my safety is going to work. I know my safety is okay, and it's going to slowly descend me to the ground.

Knowing that, I was okay with throwing that last leg out the window and going out over the window. Regardless of being a little afraid of heights or not, it's okay to just go out and try that.

Another of the guys, he had the yellow rope with a Munter hitch. Well, I've never tried the Munter hitch. I heard it doesn't work that well, but I'm willing to try it because I have the TRUBLUE attached to me. No matter what, I know I'm going to the ground in a controlled manner.

How does training with TRUBLUE compare to the way you trained before?

I remember two years ago, we went to a bailout training and I remember talking to my crew and we said, ‘If this is bad, we're going to tell them that we're not doing this.’ Because we heard other crews had mattresses on the ground or they had gym pads on the ground.

I said, ‘I'm not ending my career over this. I'm not afraid of heights, but I don't want to go out and get hurt.’

I don't mind getting hurt saving somebody's life. I don't even mind getting killed saving somebody's life. But jeez, I really don't want to get hurt in training. TRUBLUE helps stop that. Because it works. Because it's safe, you know?

Back in the day, it was primitive. We had guys get hurt. It happened. We had the ladder kick out. But we've come a long way, you know, and this is right. This is safe. This is better and this is efficient.

How did your training session go earlier today?

We’re running guys through a lot faster and better. Then you get good at it, right? If you do it once or twice, you're like, ‘Wow, that was cool. I kind of maybe learned it.’ But if you do it five or six or ten times, you get pretty good at it.

I mean, there's some crazy stuff out there. You can roll up a magazine and put your main line on a magazine in the corner of the windowsill and then roll out the window. How do you practice that? Legitimately, how do you practice that? Well, you could practice it with the TRUBLUE because it’s going to lower you to the ground.

Last night we had the tool in the window. You're holding the tool with your hand, and you just roll out the window with your main line. There's no way to practice that without the TRUBLUE. What are you going to do? I guess the alternative would be to have a guy hold you on a safety line with a moon edge, and you're hoping that the tension is right. But it's so hard to get the tension correct. He has to have the tension just right, otherwise you're going to fall.

Here’s the other alternative: you’ve got a safety line. The guy just slipped out and now he’s loaded the safety line. Now you're going to take that out of service. Can your department afford to take it out of service?

With TRUBLUE, you can see what your gear does when you actually fall. When you go out and load the system, you can actually see what that feels like. That's important. That's important to me.

And again, TRUBLUE afforded that opportunity. I can't get that anywhere else.

Any final thoughts about training on TRUBLUE?

You can make training more realistic. You can make it efficient. You can make it practical.

There's nothing worse in training than thinking, ‘This isn't the way we really do it. This isn't the way it really works.’ Then you just ruined the training. Then you just made it ineffective. Then you just lost me, you know? I mean, I'll go through the motions. I'll do the best that I can, but it's so much more potent when it's realistic. Then I know I got something out of it. I know I can do it. When the bell goes off at two in the morning, I know I’ve got it in me.

TRUBLUE affords me that opportunity. And that's a lot. Yeah, it's a lot.

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