July 17, 2013
Firefighters train at C’ville ‘boot camp’
CORTLANDVILLE — Eighteen men and women from across Central New York are studying to become firefighters at a three-week “boot camp” at the Cortland County Regional Training Center.
This is the third year that six classes required by Cortland County to become certified to enter a burning building have been offered at the camp, said Mahlon Irish Jr., a fire instructor and the Homer fire chief.
The classes are also offered two nights a week and on Saturdays in the fall, Irish said.
A lot of students opt to take the boot camp because it is held in the summer before high school fall sports and colleges reconvene classes, said Dustin Contri, a county and Cortland Fire Department instructor and the Marathon fire chief.
“They are making great progress from where they started in just two days,” Contri said of the students who began the camp on Monday.
Midday Tuesday, students were maneuvering an obstacle course while using an oxygen mask and air pack, an extra 23 pounds added to their 50 pounds of regular firefighting gear, to see how long it takes each student to run completely out of air.
Each student had to lift a water hose on a pulley, drag a mannequin across a room and follow a hose through a mock two-story house inside the training center on their hands and knees.
At Contri’s training station, students slammed a tractor tire down a hallway with a sledge hammer to simulate chopping holes in walls and then had to undo their air packs and swing them to one side to squeeze through a hole only about a foot wide while crawling on their sides.
As one trainee stepped up to wiggle through the hole, an air pack’s low-air alarm went off.
In a real fire, that firefighter would have to exit the building, said Contri, 31, but in training the students are pushed to continue the course while the bell is going off so that they learn not to panic.
After the alarm bell goes off, there is still about five minutes of air left, relieving some of their fears, Irish said.
“It really gets you to think about how to conserve air so you can help out longer, help a person,” said Bill Hogan, a Homer firefighter who is taking the class.
Hogan, 41, was impressed by how much he had learned since the courses began on Monday.
“... The amount of stuff that we learn in two days is going to pay off in the long run,” Hogan said, adding that the extra time spent testing what one can do personally is key.
One of the oldest members of the class, Hogan took vacation time from his job at Pall Corp. to attend the courses. Another student left his job as a farmhand to take the free classes that run from 8 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m., Irish said.
Some of the youngest students taking the state, county and charity funded courses are under 18 and are considered junior firefighters, he said.
“It’s been a big range,” Irish said.
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