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Firefighters Get Valuable Practice - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Firefighters Get Valuable Practice

Barre, Vermont - February 10, 2008

A building in downtown Barre burned to the ground Sunday morning -- but that was the plan. It was a training exercise, without which firefighters would never learn how to deal with a real fire. It also provided an inside look at the commitment that firefighting draws from those who step up to volunteer.

The old Moose lodge on North Main St. was the object of the exercise. It was due for demolition anyway. So why not use it to train firefighters? The owners agreed to let several central Vermont fire departments work on their skills by burning the building. the Moose lodge already has moved to Williamstown.

"It gives us a big, wide open space, so it's easy to get lost down there. The smokey conditions, you can get disoriented. So it gives us a great opportunity to do some controlled training," said Deputy Chief, Bob Brown. 

The fire departments, including Berlin, East Montpelier, Williamstown, Chelsea and Calais, are accustomed to working together on mutual aid calls. Their work has been helped a lot by new equipment purchased with Homeland Security grant money -- airpacs, modern radios, thermal imaging cameras and more. The exercise also provided insight about why people join their local department. That's what eleven-year old Russell Wood plans to do as soon as he's old enough to join Barre Fire's cadet program. Children are eligible at age fifteen and can become full-fledged firefighters at age 18.

He plans to follow in his father's footsteps. "My dad invited me to see the fire here and I thought it would be pretty nice because I want to be a firefighter and all," he said.

Eighty percent of the nation's firefighters are volunteers. In fact, the fire service is an essential form of community service. As we have reported before, it's getting tough to attract volunteers, for a variety of reasons.

The elder Russ Wood, a long-time member of the Barre City Fire Dept., said, "The younger group that comes in, I see a lot of dedication, a lot of drive. That's what it takes to become a firefighter these days. I mean, you're looking at pretty close to two years of schooling, you know? And it's not an insignificant commitment."

To make sure that everyone remains accounted for, an accountability officer keeps track of tags left by every firefighter who enters the building. No one will ever be left behind.

After some practice on several spot fires inside, the fire is allowed to spread until the building is fully involved. This kind of training keeps the volunteers of the fire service ready to deal with the real thing. And 11-year old Russell Wood is getting a head start.

Andy Potter - WCAX News

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