Fighting against an unseen enemy

James Neiss/contributorThe coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges to Chief Joe Pedulla, shown in 2019, and the rest of the members of the Niagara Falls Fire Department.

Training the men and women of Niagara Falls Fire Department, before the novel coronavirus, was no small undertaking.

"With all know the challenges we face here every day, training is very important," Fire Chief Joe Pedulla said. "And (Training Chief) Gary (Carella) brings that to us."

But Carella was still relatively new to the training post in February when the novel coronavirus began surging across the country and into Western New York. Carella admits he never imagined the challenge he'd face in preparing firefighters to battle a virus and a disease that even the medical experts knew little about.

"But you know, I got a lot of help," Carella said. "(The training) has been a team effort. Everybody has helped."

Taking over the training chief's post in August, the 28-year firefighting veteran went through additional training himself at the state fire academy. Then he set about imparting his knowledge to an increasingly younger core of Cataract City firefighters.

"It's enjoyable to give back the knowledge you've learned," he said.

Carella "has a wealth of knowledge of what a new firefighter is going to face," City Administrator Anthony Restaino said. "He brings a sense of calmness to our younger firefighters."

But then the novel coronavirus arrived and training took on a whole different dimension.

"We're used to dealing and reacting to what we see (like smoke and flames)," Carella said. "But this (the virus), you can't see it and that's a scary aspect ... ."

Carella said he started coming into work every day and devouring as much information as he could find on the virus.

"I've had to ask a lot of people for help," he said. "It really changed day by day, sometimes hour by hour. One day, we'd tell (the firefighters) one thing and then the next day that would change."

Pedulla called Carella's work invaluable to the safety of the city's firefighting force.

"The first few weeks, he put aside everything else to get this done," Pedulla sad. "The research Gary did was remarkable."

Yet Carella said that even as he was learning what needed to be done, he ran into roadblocks when it came to, among other things, acquiring enough personal protective equipment.

"Even when we learned the proper way to handle this, the PPE wasn't available," he said. "Masks, goggles, I couldn't buy it anywhere."

The training chief said the department relied on donations of equipment from local businesses and individuals in the early days of the virus surge. Now, he says, the department is able to access a "limited supply" of PPE.

"It's a challenge and I feel responsible for what we tell our firefighters," Carella said. "With our prior training, there were no clear answers."

Eight weeks into New York on PAUSE, Carella said training city firefighters will remain "a group effort."

"It's a complete mix of people," he said. "From the top to the bottom, everyone is pitching in."

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