Skydive Suffolk hosts first responder training

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, April 4, 2019

Suffolk Fire and Rescue members learned how to work with skydiving gear and how to properly and safely remove it in an emergency during training Thursday at Suffolk Executive Airport.

Mike Manthey, co-owner of Skydive Suffolk with his wife, Laura Manthey, provided the training, showing the first responders how the skydiving gear works and how to remove it, if necessary, to help in the event of an incident.

“It was great to have an interaction with the emergency workers, the fire department, the medics, just to give them an idea of what it’s like to be a skydiver, the type of equipment, how heavy it is, how it connects,” Mike Manthey said, “to be able to give them the advantage of being able to work on somebody, save somebody’s life, if it ever came down to that.”

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Manthey also talked about how to rescue someone out of a tree to be able to treat them as quickly as possible. And while Manthey said a lot could happen at any time — with military training taking place at the facility, sometimes there will be jumps at 3 a.m. — incidents are few and far between.

He reviewed the difference between the tandem and sport parachute setups, as well as wingsuits, along with different types of helmets. Manthey also noted that military parachutes are generally about the same size as a tandem parachute.

Manthey showed the first responders the different parts of the parachutes, harnesses and other gear that people will use when skydiving, how it is to be used, and how they would best be able to rescue someone if necessary. He also talked about the weight of the parachutes, with the tandem suits weighing up to 50 pounds and able to support up to 500 pounds.

Manthey said he wanted the first responders to understand how the equipment works and its capabilities — and the cost, upwards of $15,000 — though he emphasized that the safety of the individual is the most important.

“It’s never a good day when we have to call those guys out here,” Manthey said. “The fire department, really what I wanted to show them was the tree rescue stuff, how the equipment works so that they know where the connection points are to be able to lower somebody out of a tree if that were to ever happen.”

He said there is a 10-mile buffer around the airport for jumping, but 98 percent of jumps occur within a two-mile radius of the airport, with the other jumps taking place within a five-mile radius.

“Hopefully we’ve identified some times and some locations and areas that they can expect it,” Manthey said. “It’s pretty much 24/7 within a certain radius of the airport. If they get a call, they shouldn’t be surprised to respond to a skydiver.”

Battalion Chief Demitri Wilson said this will help prepare first responders if that middle-of-the-night call comes.

“That’s what’s really important about this training, and seeing it in a controlled environment like right now,” Wilson said. “If the call comes in at 3 in the morning, it’s not a controlled environment. It’s dark outside, you can’t see, so really having an understanding of what you’re about to disconnect and what you’re about to do is imperative. That’s what this training does.”

It was a lot of information over the course of about two hours, but it was valuable information that Suffolk Fire and Rescue members appreciated.

“It’s in our backyard, so it’s very important and imperative that we understand what we’re about to go into, and have an understanding of how to effect that rescue if it ever comes to that point,” Wilson said.

Firefighter Michael Joseph said the better they know the equipment and systems that skydivers use, the better prepared they will be in the event of an incident.

“This is my first exposure to actually going through the whole skydive harness, how they load the canopies, their cutpoints, their breakaway points, all that,” Joseph said.

His biggest takeaway from the training was learning about the parachute pack.

“That’s what we’re going to want to know. If they’re stuck in a tree or on top of a water tower, we’ve got to figure out how to get them down,” Joseph said.

But Wilson said it’s not just about understanding the equipment or scenarios.

“With this type of training, it’s also building relationships with the airport manager and knowing who’s who, and knowing what we may be presented with, so it cuts back on the time it will take us to possibly effect that rescue,” Wilson said.