In 2016, being a fire fighter calls for much more than just responding to structure fires. It's why these first responders must constantly train. But even some of the more established departments in Vermont have trouble finding the people they need to do the job.
"When people call us, they expect us to know what to do," said Deputy Chief Terry Francis. In an ever changing world, firefighters must constantly train, working to keep up with the latest practices, techniques, and materials sold commercially.
"We can get these rooms to about 18 inches visibility. That means we have to use our senses other than our eyes to figure out where we are," said the Deputy Chief, while touring the State Fire Academy's Burn Building in Randolph. Nestled in a field just a few hundred feet from a VTC (Vermont Technical College) Farm, the Burn Building allows Fire Departments to simulate a myriad of real life scenarios.
South Burlington Fire Department's Deputy Chief Francis was sharing his knowledge with the next generation Wednesday. "I've been doing this a long time, I've never had an incident go 100 percent right, there's always something that goes wrong. We just have to learn to improvise, adapt, and overcome," he said. "We're going to do some different evolutions. Get people into different positions they're maybe not able to do on a day to day basis," added Emily Fitzpatrick.
Emily Fitzpatrick is a member of the Williston Fire Department. She started as a volunteer member of the Williston EMS Service. She says fire fighting was a natural transition, and has been one for about a year. In fact most of the new recruits training on Wednesday have less than 18 months experience. It's a chance to hone their skills, and get used to working with other departments. "We have Burlington, South Burlington, and Williston. Burlington has 22 members on duty so they have more man power than really the rest of the county on an initial assignment. Williston has 3 and South Burlington has 8. We have to rely on each other a lot for mutual aid," said Francis.
Despite the three being some of the more established in Vermont, Francis says they still have trouble finding qualified people. "I don't know, something has changed. When I first cam into the fire service, it was a very good career. It still is a very good career, most of us, if we're lucky enough to get paid, we get a good salary. But it takes a lot of time away from your family," he stated. He says it's a difficult job, and not everyone can handle it.
For those who can, helping the community is the ultimate payment. "It's just so rewarding. From a call for a lift-assist for a senior that's fallen, to responding to a fully engulfed structure fire, knowing you can help someone, make their day just a little bit better, it's so rewarding, " said Fitzpatrick. "We really need to start mentoring these people early, like grade school early, junior high. We want women and minorities in the fire department. We have to actively go out and recruit these people," added the Deputy Chief.
Burlington, South Burlington, and Williston will continue their new recruit fire training Friday. They'll focus on fire fighter safety and rescue, going over the best techniques to get their own people out of danger.
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