Firefighters participate in training program

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Firefighters from six area departments spent four days in June learning skills that could save their lives if they were to become lost, disoriented, injured, low on air or trapped during a fire.

The 30 firefighters participated in the Fire Ground Survival Training Program, coordinated by the International Association of Fire Fighters, and held at the Fairfield Regional Fire School.

For a firefighter, Fairfield Chief Richard Felner said, there is no call more challenging than a mayday call, when a firefighter’s safety is in imminent danger.

“This class is critical for our firefighters,” he said. “The most important thing is that the civilians are protected and our firefighters are able to go home at the end of the day.”

Members of the Bridgeport Fire Department know the horror. On July 24, 2010, Lt. Steven Velasquez and Firefighter Michel Baik died in the line of duty while fighting a fire at a two story home on Elmwood Avenue.

Capt. Richard D’Onofrio of the Bridgeport Fire Department learned of the IAFF Fire Ground Survival program from Bridgeport lieutenants David Dobbs and Rick Mangemele, who spoke highly of the training they received at the pilot program on Randall’s Island. Soon after their discussions, D’Onofrio was forwarded an application from Bridgeport Fire Union President Robert Whitbread and immediately began actions to bring this program to his department.

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The program is funded by the IAFF and assisted by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant program. D’Onofrio worked with Bridgeport Grant Director Patrick Carlton to obtain funding for the class. That, along with approval from Bridgeport Fire Chief Brian Rooney and Deputy Chief Robert Petrocelli, set the ball in motion. Midway through the process D’Onofrio was relocated from the Bridgeport Training Division back to the line. However he worked with Assistant Chief of Training John Mazza and Lt. Phil Reeves to ensure the program would be carried out.

The Bridgeport Training division offered 10 of the 30 spaces to other area departments. Firefighters from Fairfield, Stratford, Norwalk, Westport and Stamford were invited to attend the train-the-trainer session. Participants from the rank of assistant chief to firefighter will take the skills learned at this training back to their departments and use them to implement programs. Upon completion of the course they will be certified by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Since the program was held at the Fairfield Regional Fire School, a training facility located in the heart of Fairfield County, there are plans that a course will be developed through the school to share this instruction with members of other area departments.

While fire department training generally focuses on training for success, training for failure is equally important, Felner said.

After observing the 30 participants in training, Fairfield Fire Fighters Association Local 1426 President Bob Smith said he was “proud of our international for stepping forward to make sure we’re properly trained.”

Lead instructor for this intensive program was Battalion Chief Stan Brawer of the Los Angeles County F.D., a 24-year veteran of the fire service who has led the program for the past four years.

Brawer was assisted by Battalion Chief David Schmitt of the Burbank, Calif., F.D.; Lt. Melissa Kennedy of the Seattle F.D.; battalion chiefs Derek Alkonis and Kevin Klar of Los Angeles County F.D., and Capt. Andrew Ruiz of the Los Angeles City F.D.

“I am impressed with this group of top-notch instructors sent by the IAFF,” Felner said. “It is truly an honor to have them here in Fairfield and I am eternally grateful to the Bridgeport Fire Department for bringing this program to us.”

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