By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – For the first time in its history, the East Longmeadow Fire Department hosted the Western Massachusetts Fire Academy’s fire officer training program.
“The fire academy over the past couple of years has offered programs called ‘target courses’ that you can request to host,” Fire Chief Paul Morrissette said. “I requested this over a year ago and they were finally able to work it into the schedule.”
Nineteen firefighters and officers from fire departments throughout the area participated in the program, including eight from East Longmeadow, which was given priority because it hosted the program.
The training, which concluded on March 1, was specific to fire lieutenants and captains primarily, but because it hosted the program, East Longmeadow was afforded the opportunity to have some of its senior firefighters also take part in the training, which Morrissette said is a major benefit to a department of its size.
“The training and skill sets that even basic firefighters are supposed to maintain has increased over the years and in our department, even a firefighter could end up in the front seat of the fire truck, so that’s why I opened it up to some of our senior firefighters as well as our officers,” he said.
Morrissette explained that those in fire officer positions in the East Longmeadow Fire Department are responsible for a small group of firefighters.
“They’re responsible for their safety and their operations during an incident,” he said. “In other departments, an officer of that group of firefighters will also be responsible for setting up some of the training and the daily supervision of the department.”
The program featured a “blended e-learning” model in which participants not only attended on-site trainings, but also utilized an interactive Internet interface to view presentations and engage in discussions regarding the topics.
“I took the program back in 1997 and it’s changed a lot since then. The fire academy is doing a lot of that now,” Morrissette said, explaining that the online component keeps firefighters and officers available, a benefit to smaller departments especially.
On March 1, the program concluded with a live simulation in an emergency management-training trailer provided by the academy.
“It’s a computer-based simulation which gives the firefighters taking the course real-life scenarios,” Capt. Ben Cote, who previously took part in the training, said. “There are multiple scenarios and they can actually put those scenarios in the community in which [the firefighters] serve, because obviously an East Longmeadow is going to be different from a Boston.”
The goal, Cote said, was to make sure that everyone “was on the same page” regarding an incident and the proper way to handle it.
“It tells a lot about your skills as an officer and will definitely show your weak spots that you need to work on,” he said. “It’s a great situation because you’re not practicing on real fires and saying, ‘Well, we’ll get that next real fire.’”
Cote went on to explain that a pair of trainers sit behind a walled-off portion of the trailer and generate the scenario, which appears on a monitor in front of the participant. The scenarios, he added, can become extremely complex.
“They can make the fire bigger or smaller, or if someone has been an officer for a while and is comfortable running the fire, what they might do is say there’s a second fire going on somewhere else in the city and he has to make a decision on what resources he’s going to pull and put elsewhere,” he said. “They can definitely make the scenario as hard or as easy on the individuals as possible.”