The West Hartford Fire Department, in collaboration with the Elmwood Community Center, hosted the first-ever Fire Academy Aug. 14-18.
By Bridget Bronsdon
The West Hartford Fire Department proudly hosted the first ever “Fire Academy” to provide a comprehensive training experience for cadets aged 12-16. The five-day camp allowed the teens to have first-hand and hands-on experience, taught by West Hartford firefighters, as they learned about fire safety tools, skills, and techniques.
The week-long camp, running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. laid the foundation of fire safety basics and provided cadets a chance to dip their toes in the water and gain some authentic experience.
Andrew Eccles, community support officer for the West Hartford Fire Department, described the progression of skills and the breakdown of the academy. “Day one we started with the very basics of firefighting; wrapping a hydrant, tools, the ax and the halligan, forcible entry of a door. As the week went on we got more and more involved and more complicated,” said Eccles.
“Day two was ‘lost and disoriented’ and teaching them how to communicate to each other when they had no vision, so we blacked them out with blackout goggles so they weren’t able to see anything and they had to communicate how to get out of rooms,” Eccles explained.
“Wednesday we used the hose line so they were actually able to use the fire hose like we would, that was at Conard High School,” Eccles explained. “We did hose work for six hours so they were exhausted. Thursday we did search and rescue. So they understand the role of search and rescue and how to enter a room, look for any victims, and bring the victim out of the house or room,” Eccles recounted.
Throughout the week-long period, the 20 cadets were broken up into four groups and worked closely with a West Hartford firefighter to correctly learn the skills.
Following the training period, the cadets were ready to debut their skills in a real-time fire evolution. On Friday afternoon families gathered at the Elmwood Community Center to watch the cadets suit up and perform a fire simulation.
The evolution began with each group of cadets in the fire engine acting as though they were approaching a house fire. The instructors used wooden barriers and picnic tables to simulate walls and rooms within a house that the cadets would have to navigate.
Upon exiting the fire engine, two of the cadets worked together to forcibly enter a door using an ax and a halligan. Then, the cadets stretched the hose line through the doorway. From there, the cadets weaved through the makeshift rooms to locate the fire. The cadets proceeded to spray the hose and complete a search of the area to find a victim which they then brought to safety. To exit the scene, the cadets crawled on their hands and knees to simulate a smoke-filled environment.
The instructors even allowed family members to try pulling the heavy hose to demonstrate the strength required to successfully complete the tasks.
The impressive presentation from the teen firefighters proved to demonstrate not just the skills they learned but what they will take away from the experience.
Cadet Nisin, a rising eighth grader, spoke to the importance of what he learned. “Even if I’m not going to be a firefighter I still want to be prepared,” the teen explained. He also described learning how to cooperate and work as a team as one of the most important elements of the academy.
Cadet Devin, a rising freshman at Hall High School, echoed similar statements. “I had so much fun,” the young firefighter cadet gushed. “If you’re going to be a firefighter you need to know the skills in order to know what to do on a call and you have to work as a team,” he emphasized. Devin stated that he foresees himself going into a fire safety career and described the valuable skills he learned including forcible entry, entry through a window, how to save a victim, and how to stay low.
The success demonstrated by the cadets instilled much enthusiasm and gratification within the instructors, all of whom signed up voluntarily to lead the teens. “They showed a lot of passion to show these cadets what it’s like to be a West Hartford firefighter,” Eccles said. The passion shown by the instructors proved to transfer to the cadets as they excelled over the course of the week.
“This was an introduction to the fire service so we’re hoping that someday a West Hartford cadet or a student of West Hartford will become a West Hartford firefighter,” Eccles explained. “So this is more of an introduction to our fire department to show them that this is what we do and this is the community that we have – how we’re a family at the firehouses,” Eccles said.
The notion of family seemed to resonate with the academy as Eccles remarked that the cadets “really bonded together” and even developed friendships through the program.
Fire Chief Greg Priest echoed a similar statement. “You can see the cohesiveness of the group at the end, they’re working together,” he stated.
Priest went on to describe the value of the academy. “I think this really has to do with introducing them to the concept of the fire service, broadening horizons, and showing them pathways into the career. So it’s also about learning how we remove barriers for folks coming into the fire service, teaching them the physical skills, the demeanor,” Priest expressed.
The cadets “learn that these are tasks they can actually do, they can pull hose lines, you don’t have to be a big, strong, male firefighter. You can be a female firefighter, you can come from a totally different background.” Priest continued, “It really comes down to demonstrating that this is a job anybody can do. We want to plant that seed early and give them the opportunity, so we’ve had a lot of instructors work very hard to develop a program that does exactly that.”
Following their inspiring demonstration, the cadets then received their graduation certificates and officially completed West Hartford’s first-ever Fire Academy. The academy proved to be a gratifying and influential program for all involved as seeds of inspiration were planted.
The West Hartford Fire Department would also like to extend a special thank you to Hartford Fire, Windsor Fire Department, and the Connecticut Fire Academy for helping the West Hartford Fire Academy obtain gear. Without their efforts, the Fire Academy would not have been possible.
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