Special team uses Miller Park to train for real-life rescues

MILWAUKEE -- While the Milwaukee Brewers were in sunny Arizona for Spring Training, the Milwaukee Fire Department turned Miller Park into a playground. The Milwaukee Fire Department's Heavy Urban Rescue Team invited FOX6 News along to check out a stunning and very different kind of practice at the ballpark.

Miller Park sits somewhat silent during most of the Brewers' off-season, but on a frigid Friday in March, Jenny Schaefer helps rescuers repel from the ballpark's roof. Over Schaefer's shoulder, Milwaukee Fire Department Battalion Chief Terry Lintonen keeps a watchful eye on the action. "Miller Park offers us a great variety of training opportunities here, so opportunities like this are few and far between," Lintonen said.

These training sessions are vital for the Milwaukee Fire Department's Heavy Urban Rescue Team.

About 200 feet up, in the rafters of Miller Park, FOX6 News had to be strapped into harnesses to do this story.

Repel instructor Schaefer guides rescuers over the edge and some, like Troy Klemstein, plummet past all fear. "We're all trained to a very high level, and I'm very confident any one of us would be able to perform in a safe manner, and rescue somebody," Klemstein said.

At least a few of the highly trained firefighters are at first afraid, which is they Rescue Team supervisors say conquering the dangerous looking drop is a teaching tool. "That what this is about. It's a confidence builder," one rescuer said.

Rescuers know when it comes time to save a construction worker hanging from a building, fear cannot be a factor. "This is all general stuff that could happen at any time, and we have to be prepared to adjust to any setting," one rescuer said.

A second exercise is buried behind one of the biggest score boards in all of baseball. It's where Rescue Team recruit Tom Kasprzak hangs helplessly. Firefighter Joe Flick is lowered down and in the back of his mind, Flick plays out what might happen. "The first thing you're obviously dealing with is the height. Whether the patient is conscious or not conscious, whether he's panicking," Flick said.

No matter what a rescuer finds, Flick says the key is to remain calm. "Just kind of talking to him, keeping communication with him, making sure he's good to go," Flick said.

Kasprzak is a relatively relaxed and alert patient. Flick attaches Kasprzak to his harness. He could just as easily be saving a stuck window washer or house painter. "That's what we're going to run into in the real world, and that's why we have to train in these environments," Flick said.

Team members above work with Flick to position Kasprzak on a nearby platform. He's quickly and carefully attended to. In real life, Kasprzak may have had a neck injury, so he's securely strapped to a basket. Then, Flick once again puts his own life on the line. Flick and the team guide Kasprzak past dozens of steel garters, all the way to the ground. The main took tested during this exercise is trust. "Trusting your guys, trusting your equipment and trusting your training," Flick said.

Just as Flick finishes an hour of intense work, fellow rescuers on the other side of the stadium are preparing for what may look like child's play. In reality, the team is using Miller Park's playground to simulate the rescue of a trapped factory worker. After awhile, it's hard to find the fun in pushing and pulling a 250 pound man through a tight series of tubes, especially when in another scenario, they're simulating a firefighter's worst fear -- one of their own caved in on while trying to save another's life.

Firefighters say all of this training prepares them for any sort of extreme situation they may face out in the real world.

Wauwatosa firefighters also participated in the training, which took three days because so many rescuers went through the drill.