GRIMP North America - The Jeff and Pete story
By Jhim Burwell, Township of Langley FD
Four years ago, Township Firefighter Peter Nicol took a somewhat unexpected phone call from his friend and colleague Captain Jeff Duncan. The call brought a suggestion that they put their names in for a team to compete in the International GRIMP Rescue Skills competition ( www.cmcpro.com/grimp-na ) being held on the USS Iowa in Los Angeles.
Applying for, never mind being chosen for, the 2019 team was a first for both TLFD firefighters.“It was all Jeff’s fault,” said Peter with a laugh. Jeff explained that Ronin Safety and Rescue, a company both do contract work for, put out an internal ask for GRIMP competitors. “I looked at it and it’s always been in the back of my mind,” he said. Peter added that he hadn’t thought of competing before, asked for some time to mull it over, “and an hour later called and said ‘I’m in!’”
Ronin picked their 49th Parallel Rescue Team of seven from 15 names submitted, and Jeff and Peter were chosen to be there, Peter as team leader. From that point on, it was what Jeff called an “astronomical challenge,” which Peter said entailed six months of pushing a “very, very steep learning curve.” For that first time competing, the two guess they spent more than 90 hours training together at Ronin’s offices; building rescue set ups, figuring out rope systems, and what they would need for their personal rigging kits. All that effort earned them a sixth place finish, against 10 teams from around the world – including Belgium and Taiwan – and a great learning experience to go forward from.
Fast forward to 2022: “It seemed like a given that we’d return,” said Peter. Though the roster as a whole did change a little – Ronin made one personnel change, and family issues and Covid changed up two more – Peter and Jeff were given the chance to return to the USS Iowa, and maybe improve their result.
The second time around was much different, said Peter. “We had a much better base-level of skills, but there were more fits and starts,” he said. Jeff had gone to Belgium to compete in the European championship, which provided a much different competitive environment with 30 teams and a more gruelling scenario that saw a kilometres-long hike to the “rescue site” before their effort could begin.
Peter says the training for the March 2022 competition comprised about “30 to 40 hours of direct preparation, but it was building on the skill set from 2019.” Still, the first time they were able to meet as a whole team was only two days before the competition. “It was a roller coaster, for sure,” said Peter. There were 12 teams in LA the second time around, entries limited by the actual space available on the ship to give each team six tasks.
Jeff and Peter’s team started the competition with a scenario that had stymied them in 2019. But in 2022, the prep and “three years of sleepless nights wanting to succeed” ( according to Peter ) had them complete the rescue in less than ¾ the time they were allowed. And that success “solved an incredible mental hurdle and helped slowly build the momentum we needed,” said Peter.
As context for the scenarios they faced in the competition, Peter and Jeff animatedly described one of the challenges, and the focus required to tackle a rescue where a patient is lost in a 1,200-square-foot engine room with three levels. Jeff and his partner did the primary search, while Peter and the rest of the team were outside preparing for whatever Jeff found. In the end, it turned out the team needed to bring the ‘badly injured’ patient down three storeys of tight mazes and naval-vessel hatchways. It took some “insane teamwork and intense planning, and absolutely parallels what we might have to do in ( the fire department ),” said Jeff.
In 2022, riding the high of early success and momentum created from beating a scenario that had given them so much trouble three years before, Jeff and Peter’s team finished third. They are the first Canadian team to ever finish in the top-three of a GRIMP event! The effort they put into the training and the competition brings some tangible benefit to the TLFD: “I’m thinking at a much higher level than I would have been,” says Peter. “It opened my eyes to the way these kinds of things are done around the World.”
He and Jeff explain they are looked to by their TLFD team to train for rescues and they are able to make recommendations about the equipment the department uses, and the layout and design for where it sits on the trucks. Peter said their experience has “changed how the department responds to rescue calls based on our knowledge, skills and experience.” In the end, when asked if their incredible physically, mentally and emotionally taxing experience was fun: “Fun? Oh yeah, for sure! It’s a weird twisted fun,” laughed Jeff.