Firefighter training requires dedication
Nine hours, every day for a month.
That’s the equivalent amount of time two dozen area firefighters are currently dedicating to become state and federally certified in the many skills required to fight fires today.
Since last August, Bethel Fire Chief Mike Jodrey and Class Coordinator Crystal Aylward have been running “Bethel Hill Firefighter I and II” classes, which are taught by a variety of fire personnel from across the region and the state.
Certification requires some 260 hours of training – no small commitment from people who often work full-time jobs. There are 37 classes, ranging in length from four to 32 hours. Add in other requirements such as testing, said Jodrey, “and it ends up being over 300 hours.”
The men and women represent 10 area towns: Bethel, Newry, Greenwood, Woodstock, Gilead, Waterford, Rumford, Mexico, Norway and Paris.
While certification is not required to join a fire department, those who do not complete the course are limited in what they can do at a fire scene.
During the eight-month course in Bethel, the firefighters learn how fires behave, how to use personal turnout gear, portable fire extinguishers, hoses, foam and ladders; how to size up a fire scene, ventilate a burning building, search for victims, forcibly enter a building - and safely exit it. Survival or “self-rescue” skills teach them how, for example, to break a hole in a wall and crawl between 16-inch spaced wall studs to safety.
Skills are not limited to just traditional structure firefighting, however. There’s also wildfire training, extricating victims from a car accident and dealing with a major emergency incident, such as a train wreck (“Been there, done that,” said Jodrey, referring to a train derailment in Gilead several years ago).
They also learn “pre-incident planning” to prepare themselves ahead of time for their response. For example, said Jodrey, firefighters must consider not only the incident itself, but also the possible need to transport people away from the scene.
A Gilead firefighter chose to plan a response to incidents on the Androscoggin River, usually boating accidents.
Other classes deal with hazardous materials training, anti-terrorism and basic medical care.
Despite the grueling schedule and activities, the students are sticking with it, said Jodrey.
“We’re over halfway through and we’ve only lost one,” he said.
Ben Laier of the Newry Fire Department, who otherwise works as a lift attendant at Sunday River Ski Resort, said he had no illusions about what he was getting into when he signed up for the classes.
“It’s very physical, getting used to carrying 55 pounds of turnout gear,” he said. “But that’s what it’s all about – we’re asked to do things above and beyond our normal abilities.”
The youngest member of the class is 14-year-old Fabian Corriveau Jr. of Greenwood, a freshman at Telstar High School.
He joined the Fire Department because, he said, “I like watching my dad do it.”
He said learning the skills “are pretty hard,” and staying for classes until 10 p.m. at night can be a challenge.
But he particularly likes search and rescue skills. “It’s really fun,” he said.
One of the instructors is Rumford Fire Chief Bob Chase, who has been teaching such courses for five years. He had praise for both the students and the organizational skills of the BFD.
Chase said that the attention to detail by Jodrey and Aylward in having all the paperwork done and the equipment in place makes the classes successful for everyone. “It allows me to teach,” he said.
As for the firefighters, he said, the level of participation and their success bodes well for the future. “They choose to do this, to be the best they can,” he said.
To follow the firefighters and their training activities, go to their “Bethel Hill Firefighters” Facebook page.