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Rosecrance employees train with Rockford Fire Department

The group took turns extinguishing a car fire, climbing a 100-foot fire engine ladder.

A group of Rosecrance employees trained as firefighters for a day on Wednesday, Oct. 8, as the organization prepares to launch a new inpatient substance abuse treatment program geared specifically for that population.

Nine employees suited up for exercises as part of the Rockford Fire Department Training Academy. Dan DeGryse, a longtime Chicago firefighter and director of the new Rosecrance Florian Program for firefighters and paramedics, accompanied the staff.

The group took turns extinguishing a car fire, climbing a 100-foot fire engine ladder extended high into the air, navigating tight spaces inside a pitch-black room with just a rope to guide them and crawling through a dark room filled with fire and smoke to retrieve a 165-pound dummy.

Employees also learned about department regulations in a classroom setting and received instruction about ambulance equipment and procedures.

Matt Knott, Rockford Fire Department’s training division chief, said fire officials try to make the training as realistic as possible. Several employees said the scenarios were intense, particularly doing labor-intensive exercises while wearing heavy suits, oxygen tanks, helmets and masks.

Smoke filled the air from the car fire and burn room exercises on the windy day, and robotic buzzes and beeps signaling when oxygen tanks needed to be replaced could be heard throughout the morning.

Knott and DeGryse said they were both impressed with the employees’ willingness to participate in the training and their success in completing the exercises.

“This better prepares them to have an understanding of empathy of what firefighting is all about,” Knott said. “This pays dividends big-time to our organization because now if somebody has challenges, we can feel comfortable (referring them to Rosecrance) because staff went through the program with the Rockford Fire Department and understand what this is all about.”

Staff members have counseled and treated firefighters and paramedics throughout the years, and a few firefighters have received specialized treatment already this year as part of the Florian Program.

DeGryse, a battalion chief with more than 25 years’ experience with the Chicago Fire Department, said the training day went better than he ever could have expected.

“They got a heck of a lot of experience here today, and everybody was a champion,” DeGryse said. “You could watch all the fire shows in the world, but to truly connect with somebody is so important, to know what it’s like when somebody says, ‘Yeah, I couldn’t get a person out of a building because it was too hot.’

“Now they can connect, not only mentally, but physically to what the clients are dealing with. We tell a lot of people that when someone talks about an incident, they naturally go back and have memories. And now these staff can have memories of multiple different events, and when they talk to someone, they can say, ‘I get it now.’ Experience and memory and connecting are huge for a counselor and an organization.”

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