Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 19, 2013

Falls firefighters learn the skills needed to save themselves in times of trouble

Niagara Gazette — They are trained to save the lives of others.

Running into dangerous situations is just part of a firefighter's job.

"We're always trying to help people, that's what we're trained to do," Falls Fire Department Training Chief Mark Fontanella said. "But we have to keep ourselves safe too."

It was that concern, over how to keep firefighters safe on the job, that led the International Association of Firefighters, in 2007, to begin to formulate a program for what was called "fire ground survival." In short, Fontanella says, the idea was to create training that would help firefighters survive when "things go bad."

"It's called 'May Day' ( a universal distress call) prevention," Fontanella said. "It's about having better recognition of situations as they are going bad and how do we get out of dangerous or life threatening situations when things go bad."

The firefighters association wanted to create some standards for how to handle difficult predicaments, like being trapped by flames, falling through a floor or getting caught up in debris. After two years of work, in 2009, the association rolled out its new fire survival training program and began the process of teaching its techniques to firefighters across the United States and Canada.

Thanks to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, the Falls Fire Department was able to bring that training to the Cataract city.

"We chose to do their 'train the trainer' program which teaches firefighters how to instruct their fellow firefighters in these techniques," Fontanella said. 

With a program designed for 30 students, the Falls Fire Department sent eight of its own members for training and "sold" the remaining slots to other area fire departments including those in Buffalo, Lockport and at the Falls Air Reserve Station. Other slots were taken by firefighters from as far away as California and Indiana.

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