This is why firefighters are rappelling off the Idaho Falls water tower

Idaho Falls

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IDAHO FALLS – The Idaho Falls Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team was atop the Idaho Falls water tower Thursday morning conducting training drills.

Members of the team rappelled off the tower about 200 feet in the air and landed on the ground. The purpose of the training was to simulate a rope rescue, including getting a victim out of a confined space up high, putting him or her into a basket and rappelling down safely.

Brandon Rich is the leader of the Tech Team. He says rescues like this are not very common, but is a scenario that team members need to be prepared for.

“As far as these things happening, it’s what we call a high risk, low probability. It doesn’t happen very often. But because of how risky they are to us, we need to keep up our training for them,” Rich says.

Sam Villabeisencio is a member of the Technical Rescue Team. He recalls performing a rope rescue five times in his 28-year career with the fire department, one of which occurred in Swan Valley.

“Somebody went over a cliff in a car and we had to (rappel down and bring them back up) the cliff,” says Villabeisencio. “It was exciting and nerve-wracking making sure the patient was okay and getting them out safely.”

Though the rescue team is part of the fire department, it is more specialized. Firefighters who want to be part of the team train every other month and learn how to perform high risk rescues that are outside the scope of a firefighter’s training.

Rope Rescue is just one aspect of the tech team training. There are four other areas of focus that include building collapse, confined spaces, trench rescue and heavy extrication.

“The tech team is all volunteer. You don’t have to do it. It’s for people who are passionate and driven to do it. I love it,” says Rich.

Another purpose of the training was to give a final sendoff to a team member. Villabeisencio is retiring from the department next month and the rope rescue is his favorite part of training.

Though he has enjoyed every minute of his time with IFFD and the tech team, Villabeisencio says the time is right to step down. As the fire department moves forward without him, his advice to them is simply to have fun, stay safe and take care of the public.

“Working with Sam has been good. He was the team lead a couple years back before I took over. I’ve been grateful to follow in his footsteps and learn from him,” says Rich.