Offering something a little different every year has been the guiding principle behind planning the International Rescue and Emergency Care Association conference. However, the 71st Annual Conference & Challenges being held June 17 through 21, 2019 in College Station, TX represents a more ambitious leap for IRECA.

With Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) Brayton Fire Training Field and Disaster City as its location, the conference is expanding the number of teams competing in its rescue challenges from six to 12, said past IRECA president and conference chairman Gary Leafblad.

 “Doubling the number of teams in one year represents a big gamble for us,” Leafblad said.

The last IRECA conference was conducted in Boise, ID using the Amalgamated Sugar refinery as the setting for the challenges involving seven-member technical rescue teams and four-member first response rescue teams. There was also a basic life support challenge open to three-member level teams.

Moving the action to a professional emergency response training field offers the opportunity to not only expand the number of teams but the number of scenarios each team can face.

“We could see as many as 12 different training props utilized for the competition,” Leafblad said.

“For us, Disaster City® is a Jungle Gym with lots and lots of props to use.”

As an international organization IRECA prides itself on developing programs to share emergency response education and evaluate its members as to their standards and abilities to conduct emergency response operations.

Traditionally, the annual conference moves to a new host city every year. The new association with TEEX represents an annual commitment to College Station as location for the conference.

IRECA expects to draw in excess of 200 people for the conference, including families of the participating emergency responders, said present IRECA president Reggie Nalley.

“These response teams come from plants and refineries,” he said. “They have all the skills necessary to accomplish the rescue scenarios we put in front of them.”

However, since evaluating their work is an important component of the challenge, the emergency response teams are not permitted to prepare equipment in advance of the competition.“We have a list of equipment that is provided to them,” Nalley said. “If we want them to use a three-to-one haul system to get somebody down or to pick them up, the team has to build it right there on the scene. We don’t allow them to use pre-made systems.”

The top three winning teams from the 2018 Boise conference are expected to defend their titles in the 2019 competition. Top finishers in the 2018 competition included ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, LA, Valero in Meraux, LA, and Benicia, LA and the Sweeny Complex in Sweeny, TX.

IRECA hopes to draw the new challengers from plants and refineries across the nation, Leafblad said. The organization also hopes to draw corporate sponsorship from companies involved with the rescue industry.

When not on the training field, attendees will participate in accredited education seminars on emergency rescue topics. While IRECA provides a number of individuals to assist with the events, judges and instructional personnel will be from attending teams as well as from TEEX utilizing their wide range of academic and instructional resources.

Another important change is the decision to shorten the conference schedule by one day, Leafblad said. The awards banquet that concludes the conference will be held Friday night rather than Saturday as in the past.

Information regarding registration is available on the IRECA website.

Beyond the plans for College Station, IRECA is actively researching the possibility of conducting a future conference overseas, Leadblad said.

“We are in talks with some folks from Belgium about holding it there,” Leafblad said.