The Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society (FOOLS) is an organization started in 1995 by a group of Central Florida firemen. Since then, it has grown to over 7,000 members. There are chapters all over the world.
The leatherhead is a term used for a firefighter who uses the leather helmet. The leather helmet, is an international sign of a firefighter.
Crawling around on their hands and knees, Great Bend Fire Department Capt. Luke McCormick and firefighter Dustin Spore groped their way around the front yard of Fire Station Number 2 Wednesday afternoon.
The two, blindfolded to the point of total darkness and weighed down with air packs, made their way around what resembled a baseball diamond with orange cones as bases. When McCormick made it to a cone, he stopped and clapped his hands until Spore found him.
Then, they proceeded to the next marker.
“They probably got some funny looks” from people driving by, said Battalion Chief Eugene Perkins, but there was a reason for the behavior. McCormick, Spore and the rest of the Great Bend department took part in a special day-long training session at the GBFD facility on West 10th Street.
Conducting the exercises were members of FOOLS of Oz. FOOLS stands for Fraternal Order of Leatherheads and the Oz group is made up of mostly experienced Wichita firefighters.
“Last fall, we had three firefighters attend training in Wichita,” Perkins said. This was the massive Wichita HOT (hands-on training) which was sponsored by FOOLS.
“They thought it was very good,” he said. Those who attended believed it would be great to share some of the ideas with the entire department. The focus Wednesday was search and rescue.
“Wichita is a bigger department,” Perkins said. But, the expertise of the department members and their strategies can still be used by a smaller operation like Great Bend.
The day started with an hour and a half of classroom work. For the balance of the day, they put what they learned to use.
There were three stations. Each touched on a different technique.
At one, they simulated having to break through an upper-level building window by using their ladder.
At the next, they learned ways to load hose onto the truck to make it easier to remove. If loaded wrong, Perkins said the hose can resemble a pile of spaghetti. They also studied better methods of moving a hose through a structure.
And, lastly, they did the blindfold/cone drill. “This was to emphasis the need for communication,” Perkings said.
Overall, “they got a lot of good ideas,” Perkins said.
Three FOOLS members came to Great Bend. Perkins said they group is willing to come out for a nominal fee and conduct training anywhere in the state. All Great Bend had to do was pay for their fuel and meals.