Maplewood firefighters specialize in rescues. If someone is down a hole or in a confined space Maplewood has the equipment and knowledge to get the victim out.
Firefighter, Matt Wilcox has taken that to the next level. He’s been accepted to the Missouri Task Force 1 team as a rescue specialist. He is currently in training for the team.
Missouri Task Force 1 is a FEMA funded regional response urban search and rescue team of 186 firefighters, other rescue specialists, and medical providers from fire departments throughout Missouri. There are 28 teams nationally.
Wilcox, 30, said the primary job is to to help people, even if it’s just going door to door making sure people are OK. That’s what task force team members did at the recent flooding in Colorado.
“Obviously you’d like to be doing the breaking, the breaching, whatever, but if that’s what you’re called to do, that’s what you’re called to do,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox is married and has a 15-month-old daughter. His family is understanding and supportive according to Maplewood Fire Department Fire Chief Terry Merrell. “The time needed for training and the willingness to respond to a major incident with virtually no notice requires a total family commitment and sacrifice,” Merrell said.
Only the most qualified and dedicated are selected for Task Force 1, according to Merrell. He is the first Maplewood firefighter to be accepted.
Wilcox got an interview two years ago, but there were no openings at the time. He was told to keep applying and keep taking classes. He took swift water rescues, confined space rescues, boat operator and hazmat tech in the meantime. He was finally accepted.
“He constantly challenges himself to be better,” Merrell said. “Combine those attributes with a very high level of physical fitness and technical knowledge and you have the essential ingredients that define what is demanded by the task force.”
The team can be assigned to go anywhere there’s a disaster. Teams went to New York for 9-11. They were sent to Washington state for the mud slide in March. If Wilcox’s team is called he has four hours to get to the team meeting place near Columbia. They travel with two semi trucks full of everything they need for 14 days.
Wilcox grew up in Glendale across from the fire station. “We bugged the firemen, chased the firetruck,” he said. “Around 22 is when I started all the paramedic classes and the fire academy. I get to play all day, in my mind. It’s the best job in the world.”
He said being on the the task force team is no different than being on call in Maplewood. It’s a matter of being there to help, even if it’s not exciting.
“Would you want to be putting out fires all the time? Sure,” he said. “But if somebody calls you because their smoke detector’s not working, or they fell and need help getting off the floor, that’s what you’re here to do. You’re just there to help somebody.”