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Hilltowners Graduate Mass. Firefighter Academy - Country Journal - 07/05/2007



Reprinted, with permission, from the Country Journal – July 5, 2007

By Lisa Connell

Hilltowners Graduate Mass. Firefighter Academy

Blandford Firefighter Seth Cook

Blandford Firefighter Seth Cook after an evolution in the burn building at the Springfield Fire Academy.  On this particular day, firefighters practiced working in teams of three of four to get charged hose lines to the upper floors of the burn building.

HILLTOWNS -  They are one's friends and neighbors, they're hard workers, they're good down to earth people, and when there is a fire, accident or unexpected emergency they are right there to risk life and limb to save others.  These are the Hilltown volunteer firefighters.

Not only are they willing to risk their personal safety, but they are highly trained to do so.  They are just as skilled as any full-time, big city department members.

Proof of this was found during the latest Massachusetts Firefighter Academy's Call / Volunteer Firefighter Training graduation ceremony at Mount Holyoke College on June 28.  The 18th class consisted of 37 men, 4 women and seven Hilltown firefighters - Blandford's Seth Cook and Sandra Roberts, Chesterfield's Matt Laroche and Tim Judd, Goshen's Bob Labrie and Westhampton's Steve McGrath.  In addition, one of the instructors was Westhampton Fire Chief Chris Norris.

Goshen Firefighter Bob Labrie, whose pictures were featured in a slide show that night, and who made the class plaque that will now hang in the academy, said the Call / Volunteer Firefighter Training only differed from regular firefighter training in that it was geared for the volunteers.  It took into account the fact that they have day jobs.

He said that the paid firefighters go to the Mass. Firefighting Academy in Stow and stay there for six months, but they do the same things, it's just that they drill more often.  "It's more hours but only because they drill more.  But because this is basically volunteers, it's held in the evenings and weekends because most of us have jobs during the week".

The course was roughly 180 hours, with class starting at the end of January and ending in the beginning of June.  Classes were held every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and every other weekend they had an all day practical or hands on training.  At the end there was a written test with 150 questions.  Out of the 40 people who took it, all but four passed.

Most of the graduating firefighters said they enjoyed the hands on training more than the class sessions, but found the entire class to be so tough, that they all joked that graduating was the best part of all.

Blandford's Seth Cook said that "Graduating was definately the best part," and that "My favorite part had to be when we did our practical training, I enjoyed doing the hands on part, I learn better that way."

Chesterfield Firefighter Tim Judd agreed, saying that the hardest part for him "was studying for the exams.  The exams were definately time consuming.  There were only 25 questions but they were on three or four chapters each time.  And each chapter was about 50 pages, that's about 200 pages to study for each exam.  It was tough.  The practical stuff, learning to climb ladders, that was all natural.  That was pretty easy."

Blandford graduate Sandra Roberts said "What a relief, what a relief," and that "It was a lot of time and effort."

While it was a lot of work, the firefighters also expressed a lot of humor.  Their class phase was "You just missed the bus."  During training, the firefighters had to get their gear on in under a minute or they "missed the bus," i.e the fire truck.  Apparently, this phrase was heard a lot, since the class incorporated it into their class patch and gift to their instructors which said, "Thank you from all of us who just missed the bus."

Another thing that made life easier was that they know one of their instructors, Westhampton Fire Chief Chris Norris.  Labrie said, "We liked Chris a lot because he made us smile.  He was one of the instructors that was local, that many of us knew, which also made a difference.  We also had respect for Chris because we know he's the Chief in Westhampton but he's also on the Northampton Fire Department.  We've worked with him in situations in Northampton.  Some of what he was doing, as far as training, was natural because we've worked with him.  We enjoyed working with him."

During the ceremony, Program Director Joe Nedder Jr. told the class, "Be proud of this accomplishment.  I want you to remember the skills that were taught and the life lessons.  Remember that we are judged as we are perceived.  Remember that you wear the uniform 24/7, always wear it with honor.  And most importantly remember that to be successful you must continue to train."

The firefighters will be advancing their training.  Labrie said "Most of us are taking the certification exam that is above and beyond this training."

As another instructor pointed out, many of those in the class, which included graduates from 15 mostly small towns, all over Western Mass., will go on to higher ranks and positions of authority, and now that they have this training under their belts, all the towns will benefit from their expertise.

Goshen Lieutenant Bob Labrie and Deputy Chief Rick Clark

Photo by Lisa Connell

During the Mass. Firefighting Academy's Call / Volunteer Firefighting Training graduation ceremony, Goshen Firefighter Bob Labrie got his certificate of graduation from Goshen's Deputy Chief Rick Clark.  Fire Chief Sue Labrie was at the Fire Science Academy in Nevada taking an incident commander course for large events.  This is the second time she has been out there.  The first time was for a flammable liquids class.

Chesterfield firefighter Tim Judd

Photo by Alyssa Labrie 

Chesterfield's Tim Judd gets his certificate from Chesterfield Fire Chief Gilman Smith.  Judd graduated from the Mass. Firefighting Academy's Call / Volunteer Firefighter Training program.

Westhampton Firefighter Steve McGrath

Firefighter Stephen McGrath of Westhampton rehabs after a live fire evolution during a Structural Firefighting practical class at the Springfield Fire Academy.  Due to the amount of energy expended during these exercises, firefighters are required to take a break before going through the process again.  On this particular day, firefighters went through four different live burn scenarios which presented different challenges that could be encountered during a structure fire.

Westhampton Fire Chief Chris Norris

Westhampton Fire Chief and instructor Chris Norris (kneeling) puts the trainees through their paces.

Goshen Leiutenant Bob Labrie

Photo by Steve McGrath

Firefighter Bob Labrie of Goshen recuperating after a life fire evolution during a Structural Firefighting practical class.

Chesterfield Firefighter Tim Judd

Firefighter Tim Judd of Chesterfield uses his weight to counterbalance the ladder as another firefighter (off camera) lowers this 24' extension ladder to the ground.  Firefighters use this technique to make it easier for two people to raise and lower ladders at a fire scene.

Blandford Firefighter Sandra Roberts and Laurie Rocco of Palmer

Blandford Firefighter Sandra Roberts and Laurie Rocco of Palmer prepare for their turn to run through the ventilation practical.  During this exercise, firefighters deploy ladders on a prop that simulates being on a roof of a house then allows participants to cut holes in the roof with axes and chain saws.

Westhampton Firefighter Stephen McGrath and Fire Chief Chris Norris

Photo by Lisa Connell

Westhampton Firefighter Stephen McGrath graduates from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy's Call / Volunteer Firefighter Class.  Here he receives his diploma from instructor and Westhampton Fire Chief Chris Norris.

Firefighter Matt Laroche of Chesterfield

Firefighter Matt Laroche of Chesterfield taking a rehab break during a ladder training practical.  Due to the weight of the turnout gear worn by firefighters, cadets were encouraged to frequently hydrate themselves to avoid becoming victims themselves.

(June 28th, 2007)