East Providence Fire Department training academy nears end with controlled burns

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The penultimate week of the indoctrination for the group of recruits currently manning the 31st edition of the East Providence Firefighter academy, May 5-9, included three days of the probates being immersed in so-called "controlled burns' at the department's training facility on the Public Works grounds off commercial way.

The 15th week of the 16-week academy was spent giving the trainees as much real on the job training as possible, leading up to their graduation on Friday, May 16, and eventual dispersal into the department's ranks as full-fledged firefighters thereafter.

"This is the culmination of all their training. They've learned all about what it takes to be a firefighter. This is the practical evolution. It brings it all together," EPFD Chief Oscar Elmasian said as he observed training on Wednesday, May 7.

The probies participated in as many as 15 separate burns inside the multi-level training apparatus the department was able to purchase in recent years through federal grant money. Temperatures in the structure approached 900 degrees, which is comparable to those firefighters face in a typical home fire.

"We're trying to make this as realistic as possible," Chief Elmasian added. "Of course, this isn't the same as a house fire. There's no furniture or other obstacles in their way, but it's as realistic as we can get it."

The trainees went through a number of drills besides only entering a burning structure. They used one of the department's ladder trucks as egress to the top of the three-story stairwell. They were schooled in the use of power tools to break through the roof top of multi-tier structures. Another practice area included entering a building through a steel doorway. Still another drill included rescuing life-like dummies from the fire. The probies each did so in complete gear and in external temperatures approaching 70 degrees.

"You've got to let them make their mistakes here because it's the only way they're going to learn," Chief Elmasian said.

When each drill was finished, the groups of trainees would gather with their training leaders, one of the nine National Fire Protection Association certified instructors involved in the academy, to review department procedures and their performance in the just-completed session. The process is similar to the "post incident analysis" done regularly by veteran EPFD crews after each event they're called upon to service daily.

The trainees will soon become parts of those companies, helping to make the EPFD roster nearly complete for the moment. Another academy is already being planned for the same time next year.

"It's a much-needed class and this is a good bunch of recruits," Chief Elmasian added. "They've shown they want to learn, want to work hard, and they're ready to hit the streets."

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