Monday, February 7, 2011

Trials by fire prep WFD recruit class


By Scott J. Croteau Telegram & Gazette Staff and Claire O. Murphy SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
scroteau@telegram.com


WORCESTER — Smoke pours down a tight hallway. Firefighter recruits shimmy across the floors, their hands following a hose line to the fire.

Visibility is weak, non-existent. They bark commands; they grab one another’s feet and coats to compensate. After a 20-foot crawl, they reach a pile of burning straw. A stream of water saturates the fire. Smoke plumes.

During their 16 weeks of training, 39 city fire recruits battled such scenarios inside the Worcester Fire Department’s burn tower on Grove Street. As of next week, those training scenarios will become the real thing.

“You see the movies. You see the fire over there and here,” said Daniel Generelli, a 30-year-old fire recruit. “In actuality, it is not.”

The fire recruits will graduate Friday, earning their badges and the title of firefighter.

Mr. Generelli has taken an interesting path to become a city firefighter.

A 1999 draft pick by the Boston Red Sox, Mr. Generelli was a standout pitcher at Wachusett Regional High School until shoulder injuries forced him to retire from professional baseball.

He wanted to serve the city and took the police and fire exams.

Training has taught him that the movies have it all wrong. Smoke inhibits vision. Firefighters learn to rely on other senses.

“You learn to listen for the fire, more than seeing it,” he said.

This class of recruits is close-knit. They come from different backgrounds, but all have the same goal.

Stephen McGurn, 28, remembers the stories his grandfather, former Firefighter Robert “Bones” Kenary, would tell. The recruit said his family’s history in the department and the loss of six city firefighters in the Dec. 3, 1999, Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire influenced his decision to join the department.

In the recruit class are Daniel E. Spencer and Jeremiah M. Lucey III, whose fathers — Lt. Thomas E. Spencer and Firefighter Jeremiah M. Lucey — died in the blaze.

“They are two great guys,” Mr. McGurn said of the two classmates.

An Army veteran who served in the military for more than eight years and was stationed in Iraq, Mr. McGurn said serving in the Army and fighting fires are much different experiences. The camaraderie and trust, though, is very much the same.

“You have to rely on each other,” he said. As the recruits pulled a heavy hose to a simulated car fire during training last week, instructors gave commands and reminded them of the dangers.

The instructors know what lies ahead. They have decades of experience responding to the calls for food burning on the stove, the three-decker home fires.

As recruits inched toward the car, hose in hand, they synchronized every move. They knew there was no saving the car; it is consumed. One hundred pounds of water pressure pounded at the base of the flames.

“You never know what is inside a car,” Capt. David A. Karalus said. “There could be propane bottles, or gasoline.”

Last week’s training reminded recruits what it is like to battle blazes and New England’s elements. One of the several snowstorms that covered the region raged on during training.

Ice made footing difficult. The recruits’ gear turned into icy coats. Moisture inside the self-contained breathing apparatus can freeze and cut off the air supply.

“In the winter, what we’re faced with is we’ll be frozen solid, and you’re actually not cold,” Lt. Paul R. LaRochelle said. “It’s when you thaw out and you get really wet, that’s when you get cold.”

Training lessons, classroom lectures and hands-on training get these recruits ready. Within that training is the experience passed on by the veterans.

“You kind of plug these guys and ask them too many questions,” Mr. Generelli said. “The things they know and teach us are second to none.”

During a simulated propane grill fire, Lt. Donald J. Courtney reminded the recruits that fumes need to be pushed away with the water stream. The fumes are likely to ignite again and pose a hazard.

The fire needs to be extinguished, but the source fueling the flames needs to be put out. With one recruit holding the nozzle, another one creeps up to the tank and turns off the valve.

“This is what is going to happen,” Lt. Courtney said. “These are the things we run into in our winter firefighting.”

The recruits said they are ready and excited to start their careers. They have trained for weeks. They have been told about the fires, fatal car accidents and massive industrial fires. They have been warned about the stresses that accompany the calls.

“We’ve made sure that is something that is not hush-hushed,” Lt. Courtney said. “We talk about the pressures of the job. Something you may see could trouble you for years.”
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http://www.telegram.com/article/2011...408/1101/local