Rinconada excels as training site for emergency responders

The Santa Clara County Fire Department has trained in many locations to sharpen the skills needed to help others, but they’ve rarely encountered an environment as unique and challenging as a water treatment plant under heavy construction. And that’s just the way they like it.

“It’s such a changing environment. It looks different every day,” said Fire Captain Rob Heacocks, standing among rumbling cranes and back hoes and firefighters working to secure another into a safety harness to lower him into a vault. “For training purposes, it’s just a great setting.”

The Rinconada Water Treatment Plant is in the second of five phases of construction to modernize equipment to improve its reliability. The 50 emergency responders from six different agencies who descended upon the facility June 19 and June 20 also looked to improve, taking advantage of the uneven terrain to conduct urban search and rescue drills. It simulated a series of incidents where a person took a bad fall, one near a shaft, two down a vault.

“So much can happen in a site like this. There’s always a chance of injury,” said Heacocks. “We want to be prepared. And it’s good for all the agencies to come out and see each other’s skill levels and operations. We learn from each other.”

Even with all the emergency simulations and construction work taking place across the campus, water district operations kept on humming as smooth as ever. As it has since construction began in 2015, Rinconada stayed open for business, a feat not unnoticed by the firefighters who marveled at the amount of water produced at the site and the changing landscape of the work.

“We’re looking forward to coming back and doing another exercise over a three-day period, maybe even bring our haz-mat teams from around the county,” said Heacocks. “We really loved being out here and we are all very appreciative of the support the water district has given us.”

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