Oswego County News Release
Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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December 5, 2008

First Class Graduates from New Oswego County Fire Training Center

Fall Firefighter I graduates - The graduates of the first Firefighter I class to be held the new Oswego County Emergency Response Training Center - formerly the Niagara Mohawk Fire School - pose for a photo during a small ceremony Nov. 8 at the center. Departments represented include Redfield, Lacona, Parish, Hannibal, Novelis, Constantia, Mexico, Minetto, Palermo, Scriba, Volney, and Williamstown. State Fire Instructor Don Forbes was lead instructor and assisted by State Fire Instructors Jack Cottet, Al Heath, Lenny Hartle and John Hinds.

Fighting a live fire - Members of the fall 2008 Firefighter I class taught by State Fire Instructors at the Oswego County Emergency Response Training Center fight a live fire in the facility's burn tower. The exercise took place in November; the first at the facility after being closed for four years.

Oswego - The first class of firefighters trained in Oswego County's new Emergency Response Training Center was graduated in November, just after they practiced firefighting in the facility's live burn tower for the first time in several years.

“This is a huge milestone,” Oswego County Fire Coordinator John Hinds said. “It's been a long four years.”

The training center, formerly the Niagara Mohawk Fire School at 720 E. Seneca Street in Oswego, was re-opened this fall as the Oswego County Emergency Response Training Center.

“The loss of a dedicated fire training facility in this county was difficult,” said County Legislator Paul Santore, chairman of the Oswego County Legislature's Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee. “Our local emergency responders had to hold classes in a number of locations to meet the requirements of state firefighter training.”

When National Grid closed the facility several years ago, members of the fire service began lobbying for the facility to be turned over to Oswego County. The County received a $100,000 grant through former State Senator James Wright for building and equipment repairs, and took ownership of the property from National Grid on July 1.

“We are extremely fortunate that Oswego County was able to receive the funding needed to help us acquire the facility,” added Legislator Santore. “This has been a long time coming, and our firefighters and emergency workers certainly deserve it.”

The facility contains several specialized props to help firefighters train for challenging conditions, including a burn building to simulate a burning structure, equipment to control transformer fires and power line fires, air pack training, vehicle fires, and other similar conditions.

“It's a state-of-the-art facility, but it had been sitting empty for four years,” the fire coordinator said. “A lot of people worked hard to re-open it and have it ready for the fall training class.”

One of the requirements is to provide live training in a certified facility, a critical piece of training. “These new firefighters need to understand what it's like to work in a live fire, but under very safe conditions,” Hinds said. “For the past four years, we've been taking classes to facilities in Clay and Watertown. The live fire training towers at those sites are 'single burner' operations, while the county can operate up to five individual fires.”

Constellation Energy provided the use of the Joint Information Center in Volney for classroom training, and classes were held at departments throughout the county for training in non-live fire situations.

“Getting this re-opened was a challenge,” Hinds said. He credited his deputy fire coordinators for getting the facility up and running again, noting Don Forbes, the former lead instructor for the Niagara Mohawk Fire School, and Bill Dark did much of the legwork in getting the burn tower ready.

“Also, the fire service has been tremendous,” Hinds said. “Each battalion had a work night at the center this fall. The firefighters did everything - cleaning, painting, dragging debris out the buildings. They've thrown their support behind this.”

The fire departments will be able to use the facility for training at a small cost beginning next spring. “We're also looking to bring back the industries that used the facility under Niagara Mohawk.”

The facility holds classroom space and 20 props used for all aspects of firefighter training. “We've been using the props as they've been tested and serviced,” Hinds noted. “They really enhance the firefighter training.”

The Emergency Response Training Center also includes a two-story structure used for industrial incident training, a former classroom structure set up for sprinkler training, and a trailer that can be filled with smoke to give firefighters a sense of crawling through a structure with limited visibility.

“We're looking to bring back the industrial customers that used the facility prior to National Grid's closing it,” said Legislator Santore. In addition to Legislator Santore, District 16, Oswego, members of the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee include legislators James Bryant, committee vice chairman, District 5, Constantia; Margaret Kastler, District 1, Sandy Creek; Arthur Ospelt, District 12, Pennellville; James Oldenburg, District 14, Scriba; Mary Flett, District 17, Oswego; and Lee Walker Jr., District 15, Oswego.

The Firefighter I class graduated last month was the largest for the county.

“There are 23 new firefighters in this class,” said Forbes, lead instructor for the course, which was sponsored by the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control. “These people have gone through 28 lessons in 14 weeks, 2 nights a week and Saturdays. It's a lot of work and a lot of studying.”

“With this facility, we've kicked training up another notch,” State Fire Instructor Al Heath said. “What we did here was much more than we could do at other facilities. We were keeping everybody busy.”

During the live fire exercise, instructors were able to supervise students fighting two separate fires while another crew rescued a victim from a third fire. Mexico Volunteer Fire Department loaned their new engine, a KME Quint with a 75-foot ladder and pump, for the session.

The course introduced students to the concepts, practices and techniques of firefighting. “They learned how to talk on the radio, how to tie knots, and how to carry and climb ladders. We had them crawling around a smoke trailer with smoke they couldn't see through,” Forbes said. “We had them going inside a burning building to fight an actual fire and to rescue a victim. Everybody did well.”

Hinds thanked the students and their families for their support of the fire service, and noted that for many, this class was just a first step. Firefighters can continue in Firefighting II, special training such as hazardous materials and confined space, and other classes. “This should be only the first step in your training,” he said.

Firefighter courses are taught by State Fire Instructors, who are paid through the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control. “We have five exceptional instructors in this county, plus myself,” Hinds said. “The instructors here today represent more than 140 years in the fire service.”

The new class included firefighters from 11 volunteer companies plus Novelis, Hinds noted. “We train to a county standard, so that a firefighter from Redfield is doing the same things as a firefighter from Minetto,” he said. Often now, with the numbers of volunteer fighters lower than in the past, a single fire during daytime hours can require mutual aid from seven or eight departments. “We're working toward doing things one way on a fire ground to minimize confusion and maximize safety,” he explained.

Another Firefighter I class is planned in the spring, but participants will need to be nominated by their fire chiefs. Anyone interested in the volunteer fire service may contact their local chief or the Fire Coordinator's Office at 349-8800.

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