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Refining skills

Firefighter recruits get accelerated training

Firefighter recruits get accelerated training

December 23, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

HAGERSTOWN - "This could probably be the best Christmas gift I've ever gotten," Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said Wednesday.

Over his shoulder, 10 new recruits in full turnout gear moved into a smoke-filled building while department personnel watched the drill.

Hawbaker smiled when describing the recent victory in what he called a 21-year fight for staffing and the hiring of a training officer.

That training officer, Mark Cleck, will be overseeing eight weeks worth of classes and drills with the firefighters until Feb. 2.

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"We're doing kind of an accelerated program, covering the basics and showing them how we do things in Hagerstown," Cleck said.

Cleck hopes that the department's career and volunteer firefighters will go out on their first call with the newest members next year, return to the firehouse and say, "These guys are pretty good."

"I think the test will be when they hit the street," Cleck said.

Already experienced

Recruits, who used to be hired one or two at a time, are experienced volunteers who already meet Firefighter 2-level training requirements, and have emergency medical and hazardous materials training.

"They've all got the basic skills," Cleck said. "It's a matter of refining them."

Cleck said that when he joined the Hagerstown Fire Department five years ago, he was told to be ready to fight a fire and was given turnout gear.

The training academy affords new recruits an emergency medical technician recertification class, safety and survival reminders, rescue training, public information education, fire operations drills and time with the fire marshals. One of the final lessons will be regarding hazardous situations in which they need to get themselves and others out safely.

"That's probably the most three intense days of fire training you can get," Cleck said.

The recruits, ages 20 to 45, have been training for nine or 10 hours a day in a program modeled on those in other Maryland communities. Cleck also researched an accelerated class in Washington, D.C.

The academy covers areas of service that would not have been included 15 years ago.

"I see fire service continuing to evolve from less of a fire suppression organization into the world we live in today with terrorism and biohazards," Hawbaker said.

Hawbaker said adaptations of responsibilities were included in his three presentations requesting staff in six years. Those presentations to the Hagerstown City Council also cited federal standards, an ever-increasing number of calls, fewer volunteers and a growing city through annexation.

Adding personnel

"We've been working on manpower for at least six years," Hawbaker said, noting the council approved hiring 19 people over two years. The class of 10 is the 2006 portion of that approval.

The 2,000-calls-a-year department maintains an eligibility list that is compiled by first offering a written test every two years. The top 40 test takers then take a pass/fail agility test, and successful candidates after that interview with commanding officers.

The fire chief and deputy fire chief again interview the top three candidates when positions become available.

Hawbaker is pleased that the Hagerstown Fire Department has been taking people from other departments, whereas it used to be viewed as a stepping stone.

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