‘Boot Camp’ prepares next generation of volunteer firefighters to serve their communities

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Smoke billowed out of the windows at the training tower at the Erie County Emergency Services Training & Operations Center Wednesday morning, as group after group of young firefighter recruits made their way through different live-burn practice sessions.

The 26 men and women are nearly finished with their two week Firefighter I training boot camp.

“I’ll be able to finally go inside, put out fires, live my childhood dreams, almost,” said Rutger Wagner, a rookie from the Big Tree Volunteer Fire Company. “It’s rewarding to help out people. The adrenaline rush with the lights and sirens going, the feeling is indescribable.”

To prepare to become interior firefighters, these recruits go through a hybrid course of classroom and online lessons, before the two week hands-on training with instructors from the state and Erie County.

The hands-on portion is pretty intense.

“We’re doing live burns,” explained Emily Crone, a rookie with Doyle Hose Company Number 1. “We’re going in, putting the live burns out, practicing hose stretches, and everything.”

When the rookies leave the program Friday, they’ll need to be ready for anything.

“Mastery of the skills is important in any job,” said William Taylor, a Fire Protection Specialist for New York State who facilitates training in Erie, Chautaqua, and Niagara Counties. “You want to be able to do the job, when you need to, under pressure.”

The lessons learned in boot camp are going to be crucial when the pressure is real.

Each of the recruits will be going back to their local volunteer fire companies, answering the calls to save their neighbors’ homes and lives.

“This is a two week course, it’s 8 hours every day, it’s not easy,  but it is very rewarding in the end when we do put out a good fire, and we do have a good EMT call, and we can help the people that need it,” Crone said.

Of course, more volunteer firefighters are always needed across Western New York, and more training sessions are scheduled.

If you’d like to get involved, contact your local volunteer fire department or your county fire coordinator.

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