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Kingsport Fire's rope training could save your life; that's why they're state certified

A technical rescue team member checks to make sure the backup line is correctly placed and tied off. (Thomas Gray/WCYB)

The Kingsport Fire Department became the first in Tennessee to be certified in rope rescue. The department's technical rescue unit uses rope training as the basis for saving people in several types of life or death situations.

On Sunday, inside the tower at Fire Station 2 in Kingsport, rookie Zach Helvey took his first turn on the ropes. He joined the Kingsport Fire Department six months ago.

"It's a learning experience,” Helvey said. “It's definitely fun learning from all these guys. You try to take it in and do as much as you can."

The technical rescue team received certification for its ropes training at the end of 2017, before any other Tennessee fire department. It is a grueling process to gain the extra credibility.

"Each member of the team - first off, we had to train on it, and then they had to be evaluated on it,” Senior Captain Jim Carter said. “The state sent an evaluator in here and he checked off on all the skills."

Those skills include everything from rescuing people on high ledges to people trapped underground, but rope training is fundamental for all of them.

"Rope is kind of the backbone to all the other additional technical rescue aspects that are out there,” Deputy Fire Chief Jim Everhart said. “Rope is a very strong basis that we use in all the different disciplines, so its important to have this one certification."

While the team isn't deployed often...they save lives when they're called.

Their most recent rescue was on the fort henry bridge in Kingsport.

"He was about 80 feet above the water,” Carter said. “We went above him on the bridge, set up a high point anchor, put two rescuers over, we put them down, and brought everybody back up to the top of the bridge."

Kingsport’s technical rescue team serves more than just the city. They can be deployed almost anywhere in Northeast Tennessee.

"We are the county's team for technical rescue, so we can go anywhere in Sullivan County,” Everhart said. “We're also attached to the Homeland Security district, which is eight counties."

Helvey hopes to one day join the technical team. For now, he is learning from the veterans.

"Everybody's always trying to give you pointers,” Helvey said. “I try to take it all in and apply each one of them day to day."

Carter also trains groups outside the fire department in rescue techniques. He teaches about 40 classes a year, mostly to industrial companies.

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