Eight Washington, D.C. firefighters found themselves surrounded by police officers when they came to the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) to train on Field Force Extrication techniques (FFE) the week of Jan. 19.

FFE is a three-day course that provides emergency responders with the knowledge and skills regarding the tools and information needed to extricate an individual safely from a protestor device. Traditionally, mostly law enforcement officers take the course, but for this particular class, the students included both police officers and firefighters.

“I didn’t realize this was such a law enforcement-oriented course when I signed up for it,” said District of Columbia Firefighter, Sgt. Oleg Pelekhaty, but he and his fellow firefighters have no regrets about taking the class. “We definitely have a lot of interactions with protestor devices in the DC area. We’re hoping some of the stuff we pick up here, we can bring back and incorporate into our operations, maybe get some new techniques and approaches.”

During the course, the students learn to recognize the purpose of protestor devices and the various types of locking protestor devices used in civil actions. They also learn through hands-on training how to operate the tools used to safely extricate an individual from protestor devices.

Pelekhaty serves as one of the department’s “Fill-in Officers.” He’s assigned to Truck Company 6, Platoon # 3 in the Columbia Heights area. Each DC firefighting platoon is made up of firefighters, technicians who drive the fire trucks, officers and chiefs, he explained. Each company has three lieutenants and a captain, the trucks and squads have sergeants. His job is to fill-in whenever one of the battalion’s officer’s takes leave or is out sick. Its work he loves, but “you practically live out of your car and bounce around,” he joked. Pelekhaty coordinated the training for himself and his fellow firefighters.

“I did not know about this training until Sgt. Pelekhaty brought it up,” said Private Raymond Edwards, who is assigned to the DC Fire Training Division. Although Edwards didn’t know what to expect, he was pleasantly surprised by the diverse experience of the FFE instructors.

“I like seeing that the instructors are from all over,” Edwards said. “It’s not just one instructor from one area. They are from everywhere and they all have their own [response] stories. We’ve heard four different stories from four different instructors, which is great!”

Pelekhaty said in DC protests are pretty much daily events and most of them are carried out without any incidents, but not all. He described a recent protestor incident to which he responded:

“Six or seven Greenpeace protestors climbed up on a crane before the start of work for the morning. They went out and rappelled down the crane with a big banner and were hanging from the banner. A couple of the protestors had chained themselves to the crane,” he said. “The crane operator comes to work. He’s climbing into the cab, runs into one of these guys and about has a heart attack.” In another incident, DC firefighters were called upon when a “hemp activist” set up outside of the White House in a cage. Pelekhaty said firefighters had to use a rotary saw to cut the activist out of the cage.

“It’s very relevant for us because we’re the Nation’s capital,” said Lt. Ron Kemp. Kemp is a member of DC Fire’s Rescue Squad 1, which is part of the department’s Special Operations Battalion. The Special Ops Battalion is comprised of five companies. They are tasked with all the technical rescues, the hazardous material responses and – when it comes to fires – the rescue squads’ only job is to search for victims while the engine and truck companies are manning hoses and ladders.

“We’re no strangers to protestors,” Kemp said, a 23-year veteran of the department. “We just had a protest around our firehouse. They were protesting what was happening in Ferguson [Mo.].” Kemp said the department even had a plan in place for the time when the Washington Monument was encased in scaffolding, while work crews repaired damages incurred during the earthquake. “We have to think about anything that they can climb.”

Pelekhaty’s currently working with the CDP staff about taking the FFE course on the road to DC so that the entire Special Ops Battalion can attend the training.