MFRI Bulletin April-June 2023

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Dry suits and boots on, life jackets zipped, helmets fastened, 16 students braved the whitewater kayak course on the C&O Canal in Bethesda, Maryland taking part in MFRI’s Swiftwater Rescue Technician class.

On the first day of training in early April, the morning temperatures hovered in the low 40’s. “This is nature’s territory,” said instructor and lieutenant at Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Vince Verdadero, as the students partnered up, inspecting each other’s gear before diving into the 43-degree water to drill their first rescue.

“You want to jump in the water heading upstream and face the victim away from you so the victim can’t kick or push you away,” explained instructor Steve Hardesty, who is also Battalion Chief at the Emergency Services Bureau in Howard County. “Heavy rains often require water rescue,” said Hardesty. “In Howard County, we too often have to pick people out of their cars as the waters rise.”

During the week-long course, students repeatedly returned to the rapids learning a host of rescue techniques. One of the more difficult challenges was getting

over the strainer. In swiftwater rescue, a strainer is any object that water can flow through but a swimmer or boat cannot; such as cars, fences, trees, debris. If a fence is in the water, rescuers have to go over it since they won’t be able to gauge how deep it may go and face possible entrapment.

Students also practiced rope rescue techniques, anchoring lines on both sides of the water so responders can clip in and rescue victims. They also used rigid inflatable rescue boats, honing paddling skills and working together to right the boats in a simulated capsize event.

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left: Starting off swiftwater rescue training strong, each student dove into the rapids and battled the current swimming back to shore; right: Emerging from the water, swiftwater rescue students and their instructors quickly formed a comradery.

The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute of the University of Maryland is the state’s comprehensive training and education system for all-hazard responses. The Institute plans, researches, develops and delivers quality programs to prepare agencies and individuals to protect life, the environment and property.

Bulletin Staff

Editor: Diane May

Managing Editor: Jennifer Ginn

Graphics: Ana Maizel

Assistant Editor: Jenna Robles

Contact MFRI

tel: 301-226-9921 fax: 301-314-0752

The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Bulletin (MFRI) University of Maryland (ISSN 1074-2298) is published quarterly by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute of the University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. Periodical postage paid at College Park, MD 20740. Postmaster: Send address changes to Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, Bulletin, 4500 Campus Drive, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, 20742.

The MFRI Bulletin is distributed as a public service of the University of Maryland. The Bulletin is dedicated to the publication of information that will help educate its readers on the subjects of fire protection, emergency medical services, rescue, leadership and training. This publication may contain some articles and illustrations provided by readers. MFRI does not necessarily agree with information nor endorse any products depicted in the Bulletin. Address all communications to Editor at MFRI. For change of address, send mailing label and new address.

The MFRI Bulletin is produced entirely in house. We extend our sincere gratitude to our contributors who make this publication possible.


While today’s EMS, fire and rescue departments have a host of missions, I believe everyone would agree that the most important objective is saving lives. But who is going to save the lives of our firefighters?

At the 2022 IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, nearly 75% of those honored died from cancer. That’s a grim statistic to talk about but if we don’t talk about it and take protective measures, this percentage will not drop. Moreover, there is some evidence that families of firefighters are more susceptible to cancer as well.

In emergency services, safety has always been the responsibility of multiple people at multiple levels: organizational leadership, management, labor and the individual responder. While there have been numerous studies, new initiatives and precautionary measures instituted in many departments over the past few years to help curve these statistics, there are still departments nationwide that have not adopted any of these practices.

It is imperative that fire service leaders empower all individuals under their command to allow and encourage organizational leaders to employ cancer prevention initiatives. New organizational cultures need to be initiated and prevention practices need to prevail so that we can keep the focus on saving lives, knowing ours are as best protected as possible.

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More than 50 students participated in MFRI’s spring Instructor Skills Weekends in April. Focusing on fire, EMS rescue, and hazardous materials, the biannual enhancement weekends were led by 11 veteran instructors from across the state.

This process is designed to overview all skills necessary to teach within each respective emergency discipline. If students are successful, they begin their practice teaching and then are granted the ability to instruct for their sponsoring agency. Many thanks go out to the following team players for making this event a success: Tim Delehanty, MFRI Logistical Services; MFRI skills instructors; and MFRI leadership.

The 2023 Fall Skills Enhancement will be held on September 9th and 10th and Skills Weekend will run September 23rd and 24th at MFRI headquarters.

If you are a sponsoring agency and have candidates to submit, please look for an informational email soon or contact Todd Dyche: or by phone: at 301-729-0431.

More than 50 students took part in the spring Instructor Skills Weekends sharpening their instruction delivery while physically demonstrating their extensive first responder skills.

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Established in 1999, Maryland Day is the University of Maryland’s largest community outreach event. The campus-wide celebration includes over 300 activities that encourage attendees to tap into discovery and new ideas.

More than 80,000 alums, friends, family and neighbors of all ages attended this year’s event, which was held on April 29th.

At MFRI’s demonstration space, hundreds of people of all ages learned how to extinguish a fire under the close direction of our trained fire fighters.

MFRI also brought our mobile sprinkler trailer, enabling attendees to watch first-hand as a fire sprinkler system extinguished a residential fire simulation.

Children and adults alike appreciated the MFRI fire hat giveaway. Volunteers also distributed coloring books, crayons and stickers and raffled off fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

top: Multitudes of University of Maryland students came to the MFRI demonstration space on Maryland Day, where they practiced putting out a fire and obtained their very own firefighter helmets.

middle: Maryland Day attendees of all ages learned how to extinguish a fire under the instruction and supervision of MFRI volunteers.

bottom: MFRI’s mobile residential sprinkler trailer reinforced the fury at which fire can spread and demonstrated the effectiveness of a sprinkler system.

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Prepping for mass casualty and active shooter events, 24 students recently took part in an 18-hour Maryland Rescue Task Force training course at the new Washington County Public Safety Training Building in Hagerstown, MD. Incorporating fire, EMS and police, the training links together preparation and response for life-saving intervention.

Out in the field, first responders conducted patient assessments (largely on manikins) and drilled, reviewing treatment for collapsed lungs, massive bleeding, tourniquet applications, hypothermia and chest seals. They also practiced victim drags and carries and the use of webbing and portable stretchers to move patients.

Working in concert, under a unified command structure, students also focused on the importance of communication and teamwork to maximize effectiveness and mitigate injury and loss of life.

“Students wore external plate carriers and practiced doing their work around tactical equipment,” said MFRI Advanced Life Support (ALS) Coordinator Chris Biggs, who created the program along with other MFRI ALS coordinators and instructors with extensive tactical backgrounds and experience. “Five instructors taught the course, which focuses on national information and is customized for the state of Maryland,” Biggs furthered.

In the event of an emergency, each county in Maryland activates its own task force and additional counties can be called in for assistance. Task force members can also cross state lines if needed.

above: Training to work as a unified force in the event of a mass casualty or active shooter, 24 students took part in Maryland Rescue Task Force training which brings together fire, EMS and police for life-saving intervention.

The swiftwater classmates and instructors quickly bonded, always cheering each other on and also each counting off throughout the training to ensure everyone was accounted for.

One of the swiftwater student’s birthdays happened to fall on a training day. She mentioned that a friend commented, “You have to go to class on your birthday?” She promptly responded, “Are you kidding? Look at what I get to do for a living.”

right: Employing paddling skills, students set out in rescue boats to practice pulling victims out of the water

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Swiftwater continued from front page



A MFRI instructor for nearly a decade, Scott Whetsell works full time as an Information Systems Specialist with the West Virginia State Police. He also works contractually for Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) as a Basic Life Support (BLS) Evaluator and volunteers at the LaVale Volunteer Rescue Squad and Cresaptown Volunteer Fire Department.

His busy schedule reflects his commitment to the field as does the time he devotes to teaching. Scott initially took an interest in becoming an instructor after being encouraged by other instructors. “I thought that being able to teach others in a field that I care about so deeply would be a great way to give back and serve the next generation,” said Scott. “Interestingly enough, I was so naive about the whole process, I thought it was on a volunteer basis. When I applied to be an instructor, I had no idea that it was a paid position.”

Scott primarily teaches initial EMT courses as well as EMT Refresher, EMT Skills, EMS Officer I, Emergency Vehicle Operator (EVOC), and Emergency Medical Responder (EMR). He is also an instructor-evaluator, mentor and part of MFRI’s QA/QI cadre.

In the classroom, Scott aims to make the material interesting to keep students attentive and engaged. “I make full use of the time available in my classes to help benefit the students. I also offer extra practice time outside of class to any student who

needs it,” said Scott. “My goal is to make students as functionally ready and knowledgeable as possible. I hold myself and my students to a high standard to ensure success.”

Clearly Scott started strong with this philosophy as his very first (interim) class passed state and national registry exams with a 100% first-attempt pass rate.

“Scott is a fantastic instructor with a strong commitment to student success,” said Todd Dyche, regional coordinator for MFRI’s Western Maryland Regional Training Center. “His dedication to EMS is evident through his students’ NREMT results.”

“Interacting with a wide range of students and being part of their journey as they become EMS Clinicians is the reward,” said Scott. Teaching them new concepts in ways that they understand, seeing the ‘light bulbs’ come on, and seeing them obtain licensure successfully inspires Scott. “It is amazing to be there to help them through it all and see their hard work pay off in the end.”

When he’s not working or volunteering, Scott enjoys spending time with his wife Kristina, and three cats Simba, Nala and Kiara. He also plays action-adventure, strategy and simulation games and collects and builds Lego and Monopoly sets.

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photo: A dedicated EMS instructor, Scott Whetsell has been teaching at MFRI for nearly a decade.


MFRI welcomed a full house of attendees to headquarters for the Public Fire and Life Safety Educator Seminar in late March.

This year’s informational event largely focused on the safety challenges presented by lithium-ion batteries. Attendees also had the opportunity to convene outside in the parking lot and explore an assembly of electric vehicles first hand.

Speaker Ron Kanterman, Executive Director for the FDNY Bureau of Fire Prevention, focused his presentation on the specific challenges that lithium batteries present in NYC. He explained that putting out fires in towering buildings, underground tunnels and on trains and subways coupled with the city’s aging infrastructure complicates fire response.

In addition to inspecting residential and commercial buildings, the FDNY Bureau of Fire Prevention inspects powerplants, bulk fuel terminals and pipelines, hazardous cargo, explosives, pyrotechnics, television and movie sets, laboratories, street fairs, carnivals, block parties, hospitals, schools, prisons and nursing homes.

According to Kanterman, there are 20,000 fire alarm system calls in the city annually. Enter lithium batteries (and knock off lithium batteries). A new UL approved lithium battery is $300. A knock off is $50 and not safety-standard approved. And these batteries reside in electric scooters, bikes, cars, laptops, tablets, phones and household appliances and devices throughout the city.

The speaker shared the three commandments of lithium batteries:

• Use the battery specifically made for the device

• Make sure your charging station is properly and professionally installed

• Batteries must meet operating and safety conditions

Every charging room or station should have:

• Adequate ventilation in a climate-controlled room

• Two feet between charging apparatus

• Apparatus directly connected to a receptible (not a powerstrip or extension cord)

• Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers

Safety tips for handling electric vehicles:

In vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are often used in great numbers. An electric car requires 7,000 batteries. A tractor requires 40,000 batteries.

When responding to a call with a car powered by lithium-ion batteries:

• Wear all of your PPE, including SCBA. These fires are quick and hot.

• Be aware that batteries will ignite if hit with a hammer

• Approach a burning electric vehicle from angle, not the front or the side

• Only lift a vehicle from its primary lifting points

• The electric battery is located underneath the car

• One battery cell can ignite the rest

• Debris impact can extend up to 100 feet

• Only tow vehicles on flatbeds and always store them separately in case of reignition, which can occur for up to 48 hours

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Participants learned about the hazards of lithium-ion batteries and also had the opportunity to look under the hoods of electric vehicles.
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Jeff Fleming joined MFRI as the Northeast Regional Training Center Coordinator. Jeff is a long time EMS/ Fire/Rescue member in the State of Maryland. He has a diverse background working in different capacities in the fire service. He served as assistant chief as well as firefighter/paramedic at Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department.

He was a career EMS supervisor, a member of the Carroll County Training Academy staff, and a coordinator of the Carroll County Volunteer EMS Association. Jeff is also a longtime MFRI instructor. He attended Carroll County Community College and the University of Maryland Global Campus, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.


Latoya Wilson recently joined MFRI as an administrative assistant and is positioned at the front desk at MFRI headquarters. She grew up in the small village of Georgetown in Guyana, South America and came to Maryland in 2009. She is the middle child of seven siblings.

Latoya recently graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Family Science. She has been employed by UMD for more than ten years.

In her free time, Latoya enjoys reading, writing poems, and going to karaoke. She loves learning new things and hopes to create an environment where less privileged children are given an opportunity to be their best selves.

FREE TRAINING: The National Fire Protection Association, in partnership with General Motors, is offering an online safety training course for alternative fuel vehicles and it is free of charge for emergency responders. To enroll online, visit and enter the following code at checkout: GMEV1 (The offer ends once 12,000 registrations have taken place).

The annual Public Fire and Life Safety Educator Seminar is hosted by MFRI with support from the MSFA and MSFALA Fire & Injury Prevention and Life Safety Committee and Maryland EMS for Children’s State Partnership Grant.

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Lithium Batteries continued from page 7
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