Hurricane recovery provides Fairfield firefighters training

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Firefighters Finn MacDaniel and Rob Luise initiate vent-enter-search operations during a training session on a home ruined by Sandy.

As Fairfield residents continue in their recovery efforts from last October’s landfall of Storm Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in United States history, some have turned to the Fairfield Fire Department not for help, but rather to help by providing training resources and opportunities.

On April 1, local contractor Bruce Gold of One Six Construction stopped into the fire marshal’s office to have demolition papers signed off, and Deputy Fire Marshal Darrick Lundeen seized the opportunity to contact the fire department training officer, Assistant Chief Christopher Tracy.

“I asked if he could wait there for five minutes, and had our liability release form delivered and signed before he left,” Tracy said.

“The house was significantly damaged by Hurricane Sandy and will be torn down,” said Gold, the owner and builder of 39 Rhoda Ave. “But I’m happy that the Fairfield Fire Department was able to use it for training purposes and benefit from it.”

Photographs of the structure and limitations placed on its use were emailed out by 6 that night, and fire companies had instructions for its use and were initiating a simulated fire attack using the department’s smoke machine by 9 the following morning.

One of the recently promoted lieutenants working at the scene, Dennis Eannotti, said of the opportunity that “the ability to train with multiple companies from different districts, and to train on a structure completely unfamiliar to all of us, adds realism that can’t be duplicated at familiar sites.”

Engine and ladder companies from across town were rotated through the site to simulate fire fighting tasks ranging from forcible entry, hose stretching, fire attack, vent/enter/search, vertical ventilation, search and rescue to emergency bailout, a technique used when the interior being searched completely ignites in a condition known as flashover.

“All of the operations our personnel trained in have occurred at fire scenes in Fairfield, and this training provides critical skills development and maintenance that we hope will keep our residents and fire fighters safer,”  Tracy said.

Eannotti echoed that thought, adding that “acquired structures don’t come around very often, but when they do it gives our personnel a great opportunity to sharpen and develop our skills, both as individual fire fighters and as a team, from the most junior to the most senior members of the fire department.”

Another flood victim from nearby Fox Street, Kelly Benenati, and her father, Joe, offered up a Subaru wagon her late mother had left her that was damaged beyond repair by last fall’s floodwaters. The vehicle will be used as part of next weekend’s “Back to Basics — Vehicle Extrication & Rescue Tools” program at the Fairfield Regional Fire School.

“We’re grateful to the Benenatis and Mr. Gold for their generosity, and hope that their donations will inspire other residents to offer homes and cars that are beyond repair for our fire fighters and officers to use to improve their life saving skills as Fairfield’s first responders,” Tracy said.

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