|President & CEO, Roco Rescue|
As a 19-year-old in Beaumont, Texas, Kay Goodwyn took a clerical job with the local fire department and, in short order, decided she wanted to be a firefighter herself.
“I really liked the work we were doing, and I wanted to understand every aspect of it,” she says. Goodwyn shifted from an administrative position to the firefighter training academy. Twenty others were in her class—all men.
“It was extremely tough,” she says. “It was so important to me that I performed correctly and did everything right.”
The experience lasted a few years before Goodwyn decided the business world was more her speed, but it planted a sharp appreciation for the skills first responders need to keep themselves and others safe. Today, Goodwyn still recalls her days as a firefighter in her work as president and CEO of Baton Rouge-based Roco Rescue, which provides technical rope rescue training for first responders nationwide.
The company was founded by her former husband more than 30 years ago and trains rescue teams in how to evacuate victims from confined spaces. Buildings, offshore platforms, manufacturing facilities and more all have tight quarters in which rescue options are limited and only accessible to human beings, not big equipment. Technical rope rescue derives from cave exploration, Goodwyn says.
Goodwyn helped shape Roco Rescue from its early years in business, and bought it outright in 2001. Since then, the company has become a Department of Defense contractor, providing tactical rescue training and equipment for Air Force pararescue teams and the United States Special Operations Command.
The company has also expanded its training programs with a state-of-the art facility in Baton Rouge and program subsidiaries in Vancouver and New Mexico. Business has doubled in the last five years, Goodwyn says.
“It has had to do with hiring the best people,” she says. “We have an unbelievable group of people who have relevant experience. They've shaped how we train others.”
The firm has 21 full-time employees and 100 contract trainers with emergency response experience. Its main training facility, the Roco Training Center off Harding Boulevard, features towers, high angles, entanglements and pipes that first responders must maneuver around to reach victims in mock rescues. Teams come to Baton Rouge from around the nation to be certified or recertified in various levels of technical rope rescue.
In 2010, the company added a blog to its website in which in-house experts weigh in on different aspects of rope rescue. It has received more than 82,000 hits.
Training may be Roco Rescue's bread and butter, but Goodwyn has also helped the company expand its own product line of related rescue equipment and kits, including kernmantle rope (some of which supports up to 9,200 pounds), belays, harnesses, bridles, stretchers and dozens of other rope rescue components. Some items have been developed by Roco and are trademarked. Goodwyn says the company only sells equipment that it also uses, which has added to credibility and helped boost sales.
In addition, Roco Rescue has developed on-site contract safety teams and rescue stand-by services, a fast-growing component of the business. The target markets here are manufacturing or petrochemical facilities that need rescue teams to stand by as a preventative measure during physical expansions or other situations.
“This provides added safety to jobsites,” says Goodwyn. “We've seen this area grow tremendously with new manufacturing projects in the state. Our guys are constantly busy.”
Indeed, one day in early May, a contract safety team was in the Roco warehouse, loading supplies from rows and rows of tidy shelves chockfull of rope rescue equipment. Team members were on their way to a stand-by job and had just received a last-minute call from another local facility that needed help the following day. More jobs were lined up throughout the week as well. Goodwyn listened and suggested they meet later to settle details.
Then she gave the team a sincere look and a familiar sign-off. It's one they hear from her often: “You guys be careful.”
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