Local firefighters earn their stripes

Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

New recruits pose together after completing a training session for Firefighter 1 to achieve state certification.

The dark, billowing smoke cleared for just a second as a team of young firefighters raced into the heart of a burning building. Their fire hoses ready, they released a powerful spray, smothering the blaze and revealing the culprit, a smoldering bundle of straw pellets.

As the teammates wiped the sweat and ash from their brow and congratulated one another on a job well done, they recognized that this feat was only the beginning.

The straw fires were a test.

The teammates had completed a crucial task in Firefighter 1, taking one step closer to becoming state-certified firefighters.

Starting in October, firefighters-in-training enrolled in Firefighter 1, which was held and administered by the Richmond County Volunteer Fire Department, to study the essentials of combating fires, deal with smoke, handle firefighting equipment, and foster camaraderie among members of the class and within the classmates’ respective fire departments.

The class concluded with pen-and-paper state testing Tuesday, Dec. 11 followed by the practical portion on Thursday, Dec. 13. For hands-on instruction, a state-designated “burn building” in Wicomico Church was used to allow students to fight controlled fires and demonstrate their skills to evaluators on-site.

Fire Chief Randy Passagaluppi emphasized the importance of Firefighter 1 to new recruits.

“I tell the guys, when they take Firefighter 1, it’s the basic knowledge you’ll carry with you for the rest of your career,” Passagaluppi said. “For every firefighter, this is where they start. “

Not only did the class grant firefighters-in-training state certification and teach them the basic skills, Passagaluppi said it also infused a sense of family among the recruits.

“It takes a team to fight fires,” Passagaluppi said. “That’s what we try to strive for in the class…[the new firefighters] even elect a president, so they form a strong group of people and friendships as well.“

Firefighter 1 is funded by the state and includes classroom instruction at the vocational center. Students must complete 180 hours of instruction in order to achieve certification and Firefighter 1 status. Graduates of the class then disperse to their separate jurisdictions, where they work with other members of the department to share the skills they learned.

According to Passagaluppi, most fire departments require new recruits to complete the class within two to three years of their joining the department. He said instruction at the vocational center allowed his fire department to instruct not only firefighters and emergency service recruits from Richmond County, but also students from Westmoreland, Northumberland, Lancaster and Essex Counties.

Although Firefighter 1 is a widely renowned instruction tool used by Virginia fire departments, there are still misconceptions about what trainees do.

When asked if the new recruits assisted in burning down dilapidated buildings to both train and do a service to their community, Passagaluppi said: “We try to avoid that because we never know what’s in the house as far as things that can go wrong.”

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